Everyone’s heading to the Marche

Green berets. Red berets. Straw hats with a red sash. Straw hats with a green sash. Chef hats, pastry bonnets, and caps - headgear of more than 200 employees from 46 countries at Toronto's recently opened Movenpick Marche.Pioneered in Europe, the...

Green berets. Red berets. Straw hats with a red sash. Straw hats with a green sash. Chef hats, pastry bonnets, and caps – headgear of more than 200 employees from 46 countries at Toronto’s recently opened Movenpick Marche.

Pioneered in Europe, the 20,000-square-foot market-restaurant in Toronto’s downtown core with seating for close to 500 patrons is the first of its kind in North America.

Brought to Canada by Movenpick Canada President Jorg Reichert, this market restaurant allows customers to browse from station to station, choosing fresh foods that range from meat and fowl dishes, pasta, pizza, seafood, salad and antipasto, to fresh-baked pastries and then watch the chef prepare their order for on-site consumption or take home.

‘Passport’

Patrons are given a ‘passport’ or card at the door which they take with them and get stamped for each item bought. Customers present these cards for payment on the way out. A 10% service charge is added to the bill in which all staff share.

For German-born director of operations Johannes Karbach, the Marche’s visual concept reflects the market-restaurant’s raison d’etre.

See the ingredients

‘As a market-restaurant, we want our customers to see all the fresh ingredients we use, then involve them in making their menu decisions,’ Karbach says.

‘Trends for the ’90s are `Go healthy, go natural and go tasty.’ Everything we do at the Marche revolves around these three principles,’ he says.

‘To pursue total freshness and quality, we have to ask our customers to get involved. Other than ice cream and milk, and overnight meat and fish storage, nothing is refrigerated.’

Both food and merchandise stations reflect lifestyle and food trends of the ’90s.

Karbach says ‘grains and veggies, the items that move, are our strongest focus and account for 60% of our complement.

‘Veggies and fruit also have a strong visual presentation,’ he says. ‘We mass merchandise cases of fresh strawberries daily. Next comes seafood and poultry, then pork and red meat.’

Follow trends

Karbach says the Marche will change as customer eating and lifestyle trends continue to change.

For example, on May 3, sushi was introduced.

The outer facade and internal themes at the Marche reflect success stories from around the world.

The Pecks retail chain in Milan, world champions in presentation, influenced the Marche’s focus on staples and visual design.

In a market-style restaurant that Karbach visited in Bangkok, customers bought their ingredients, then the chefs prepared their meals.

‘This worked out great, if the customers were experienced in ingredient selection,’ he says. ‘Here, our staff suggest the preparation and then do special orders.’

Karbach, who grew up in a small German village on the Rhine, brings a hometown atmosphere to the Marche.

‘I was born and bred to be a chef,’ he says. ‘My family has had a country inn for generations.’

And Karbach wants the Marche to give the customers this homegrown family feeling.

‘We built a large tree surrounded by a circular bench [in the restaurant,'] he says. ‘This forms the nucleus of the Marche. The tree’s deep roots embody the Marche’s natural and fresh outlook.’

Karbach says he wanted to bring this serene backdrop to the Marche to increase customer comfort levels.

‘I used to enjoy watching the old folks in my hometown sit around a bench like this one, eating, talking and watching people go by,’ he says. ‘I want our customers to feel this same relaxed pace.’

‘We have no waiters at the Marche because waiters, wait. We want our guests to enjoy, relax, eat at their own pace and take in the atmosphere. And to get up whenever they wish to get something else.

First-time customer Sally Wygant says the restaurant ‘reminds me of France.

Visually appealing

‘Everything is visually appealing and appetizing,’ Wygant says. ‘It’s the kind of place where you take your time and browse around.’

Susan Wenzel, a visitor from Warren, Pa., described the Marche as ‘a feast for the eyes.’

Barbara Aksiuczyc, who is a regular patron, likes the Marche because she can go at her own pace.

‘With the passport system, I can eat when I want to, and go pick everything myself,’ Aksiuczyc says. ‘And I like the activity. I’ve been back many times. And of course the food is good.

European atmosphere

‘The atmosphere also reminds me of Europe,’ she says. ‘I can come here alone, and people-watch, and feel comfortable. That’s not always the case at other restaurants.’

Bruno Rickli, the Swiss-born manager of Marche’s Bakery and Pastry station, says people get ‘so excited’ by what goes on at the restaurant.

‘They’ve never seen bread being baked before,’ Rickli says. ‘Generally, people walk around for a half an hour first, they’re so shocked.’

Andrew Malenfant, a graduate of a hospitality course at a Toronto community college who works full time at the Marche and hopes to do his apprenticeship there, says he loves working at the restaurant.

‘So much action’

‘There’s so much action,’ Malenfant says. ‘And customers love it because it’s a unique experience.’

Watching, asking questions and touring is part of the customer experience at the Marche.

As Kamal Ibrahin, Egyptian-born team leader of the pasta station, prepares pesto, the pasta sauce of the day, he offers: ‘I add a lot of spinach to pesto. Customers enjoy a lighter sauce these days.’

Rickli, Malenfant and Ibrahin are representative of staff spirit at the Marche.

‘The Marche creates a `Let’s work together’ feeling, and the staff adds their own,’ Karbach says. ‘This enthusiasm, combined with the food presentation and atmosphere give the Marche its special ambience.’

When Ibrahin finished his pesto, he took up chef duties at the pasta station. As he skillfully flipped ingredients, he asked customers their opinion.

In front of him, strewn on a Turkish marble table top, were red and green peppers, mushrooms, and big garlic cloves.

Pasta ingredients

Strategically positioned for customer view, and within the chef’s easy reach, were large bowls of pasta special ingredients – this day, they were smoked bacon, vegetables and the pesto.

A practical cooking set-up enhances the food’s strong aesthetic appeal.

‘Our stations are designed to give the chefs ample work space,’ Karbach says. ‘I know what it’s like to work in a cramped space, and it’s not fun.’

The overhead blackboard signs reinforce the day’s two offers: spinach pesto, and a baked, cheese and vegetable pasta gratin.

Above the Patisserie du Marche, the hanging signs read: ‘We use only the finest of ingredients. All our products are made on the premises from start to finish.’

Below, apple streusel sits beside berry cake, rows of white chocolate mousse are placed next to the raspberry cheese cake. A strawberry and mango flan is in the works.

At the salad bar, pots of fresh mint, basil and chives are growing. The sign above reads: ‘Quality and freshness are always reflected in the season. That is why we offer you a selection of tasty market fresh vegetables.’

Smoked seafood is plentiful at the Marche’s fine seafood collection, and at the fresh fish market there are full-length fish strewn across crushed ice complemented by baskets of lemons and tomatoes.

‘All our fish is kept fresh on beds of crushed ice, an idea that we saw at Pike’s Market in Seattle,’ Karbach says.

The Marche also uses accent signs.

Grill station

The Grill station, for example, was originally called Grill & Rotisserie. As many customers did not realize this included poultry, the station was renamed Grill and a ‘meat and poultry’ accent sign was added.

There is also a wine bistro, a bar – even a vitamin bar.

The Marche has a flower station complete with gift wrap, a magazine rack, a cafe au lait station, and a juice stop.

As customers travel from station to station, they hear lively music in a variety of styles that accentuates the visual feast.

‘We have tables and chairs from 14 countries,’ Karbach says. Even the tables have a feel to them; they’re stone or wood. And tiles from France.

‘We flew the expert in from France; it was the first time he’d ever been on a plane. He just came back with his family to show them his best work.’

Design

Design has become an added customer service at the Marche. The 15th floor of the head office location on Toronto’s York Street is dedicated to interior design and research.

Along with its 300-cookbook library, more than 60 magazines arrive weekly to keep head office designers up to date on current interiors.

‘We help customers with design questions and furniture selection from around the world,’ Karbach says.

As a patron exited the revolving doors and dropped her bag of goods, Karbach ran to the rescue.

‘We’re getting an even more durable brown bag with handles,’ he says. I don’t want plastic bags. It goes against our `homegrown’ concept.

‘And we use only pine trays. We believe customers have taken great care of the trays because they’re not plastic. Not one has been broken yet – except maybe by a staffer.’

‘I think the Marche has everything it needs to make our customers happy. If there’s one thing we need, it’s more seats.’