Welcome to our feature, The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tables.
Marcus Marshall [Photo: Matthew Wong]
Marcus Marshall has seen decades of restaurant experience up and down the country, and he became the general manager of St. Cecilia when it opened in January of 2014. His years of restaurant management have taught him to treat every customer like royalty with a true hospitality experience. Here, he talks about keeping the operation running at Ford Fry's latest hit restaurant.
What is unique to running the front of house at St. Cecilia?
There are three important parts to this restaurant. One is the location. Bluepointe put this place on the map. It was an iconic restaurant for 10 years, and everyone has a Bluepointe story like meeting their spouses here. The talent in our kitchen is phenomenal, and we have a beautiful dining room.
Speaking of Bluepointe, will people come and request their "Bluepointe table?"
Oh, definitely. Everyone has story when they come here. We'll hear, "I can't believe what you've done with the space," a lot also. Now, it's the exact same four walls, exact same ceiling, but we redesigned everything inside.
Out of all the tables here, do you have a favorite?
There's a couple of them, depending on the size of the group. Table No. 44 is one of the round booths in front of the kitchen. It's tucked back on the window side, so it's out of the traffic, yet it's a great perspective of the open kitchen in action. I think modern restaurants are like an open theater, and that's a great front-row seat. I like the chef's table too, or the large marble table in front of the kitchen. For a more intimate feel, there's table No. 72. We refer to it as the "Elton John" table because that's where he always came to sit at the previous restaurant.
Let's say it's Saturday at 8 p.m.; how hard is it to find a table?
I wouldn't say it's easy. Fortunately for us, we've been open since January and we've been booked two weeks in advance since we opened. I would still say without a reservation you can come wait at the bar or try and count on someone not showing up for their reservation.
So is there anything that can be done to bypass the line?
No, there's nothing to do but take a seat in the cocktail area or wait for someone to not show up for a reservation.
While you've been here, has anyone tried to bribe you for a seat?
[Laughs] No, nobody's done that. I certainly encourage people to tip our staff, but nobody's tried that before.
Since you opened in January, do you have regulars or favorite customers now?
Sure! Being in the Pinnacle Building, we serve a lot of businessmen from upstairs. UBS and Merrill Lynch are the two big companies in the building, so they are our lunch regulars. They'll be conducting business meetings and they're used to concierge services, so they expect a high level of quality. We pull our dinner regulars from Buckhead, the suburbs, and the in-town neighborhoods. There are a lot people who have followed Ford Fry and his other restaurants.
Do you have any VIP or celebrity sightings?
Well, I consider VIPs to be everyone who comes and dines with us often. They're the ones I give priority to. While we have a full book of reservations every night, we do hold a couple of tables for those who consistently support us.
Are there any specific sightings that you could mention?
Ah, no, I couldn't really say. We are fortunate to be a high-traffic part of town, and with all the hotels in the area we do get our fair share.
What's the most outrageous request that you've received here?
You know, I haven't had anything really outrageous. I had one gentleman that wanted to celebrate his anniversary by having the chefs prepare a unique six-course menu for he and his wife. He made sure there were specific ingredients in the menu and wanted to make it special for her.
And you went through with it?
Yeah, we did do it. It wasn't an everyday request, but we did it.
With your previous experiences and the ones here at St. Cecilia, what would you say is the most important gatekeeper tool required?
At any restaurant I run here in Atlanta, I think the most important thing is that you have to love it. I think that today's consumers are so sophisticated and they have so many places to dine, that if you aren't passionate about what you do then I think it shows. We talk about heart-felt service and authentic hospitality with our staff here, and we hope that our guests see that. I think that you have to show passion for what you do, and I think people can tell the difference when you don't.