Over the past 10 years, Marc Murphy has turned a single restaurant into a multimillion-dollar foodservice company.
Murphy is a graduate of The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and apprenticed at restaurants in France and Italy before working in some of New York’s finest restaurants.
In 2004 he opened his own restaurant, Landmarc, a French bistro, in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood. He drew inspiration from closer to the city with his second concept, Ditch Plains — a Long Island-style seafood restaurant named for a beach in Montauk, N.Y. — which opened in 2006.
The following year, when Charlie Trotter’s plans to open a restaurant in New York’s Time Warner Center fell through, Murphy leapt into the breach and opened a second Landmarc that became one of the high-end shopping center’s anchors.
He opened a second Ditch Plains in New York City in 2011, and in October 2013 opened Kingside in the Viceroy Hotel in the same city. All of those restaurants, along with Benchmarc Events, are part of his company, Benchmarc Restaurants by Marc Murphy.
Murphy also makes regular television appearances as a judge on the Food Network series Chopped, as well as other food shows and morning shows.
He also is president of the Manhattan chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association.
Murphy recently reflected on his 10 years as a restaurateur with Nation’s Restaurant News.
In October you opened Kingside, your first restaurant in a hotel. What was that like?
We did breakfast, lunch, dinner and 24-hour room service on the first day. It was like, ‘Make it all hurt at once.’
Did you do that on purpose, for the excitement? It seems like a lot of chefs enjoy that kind of pressure.
I don’t want to raise my blood pressure that often, but it’s like theater: The curtain goes up and you have to be ready, and it’s also great to see everything working together, from purchasing to food to getting it on the table. I guess we’re gentlemen junkies of some sort.
The first two weeks [at Kingside] were a little rough, but we got through it. The first two weeks are tough in any restaurant: just trying to figure out how to organize it — where on the line to put the salt and the olive oil.
How long did it take to open Kingside?
From getting the deal to opening it, it took about a year total. Three months before opening you start to ramp up — hiring general managers and other people. It takes a while.
Landmarc is modern French food and Ditch Plains is seafood. You describe Kingside’s cuisine in broader terms, as New American. Why did you decide to do that?
So I can do different things. I’m letting myself experiment more.
We have small plates you can share, a couple of crudos. And I’m working with local fishmongers to go really local with fish. I’ve started using sea beans in the crudo. At Landmarc and Ditch Plains I really couldn’t play with things like that.
But, like all of my restaurants, it’s still very accessible. I don’t stack the food too high or do foams. I like it when you read a menu and you can actually imagine the dish and it comes out that way. But I wanted it to be a very versatile menu that could be manipulated the way guests want to, so they can order a lot of small plates or eat in the traditional fashion.
We also change 20, 30 or even 50 percent of the menu every month, focusing on local and seasonal ingredients and getting the concept of seasonality out there, which is difficult in this day and age when people can get everything they want anytime they want.
Menu management and sourcing
What do you like on the menu at the moment?
I’ve got this Brussels sprout salad with pine nuts and lemon juice and olive oil and shaved ricotta salata. It’s one of the dishes that you think, ‘Damn, this is awesome.’
How often do you change the menu at Landmarc?
Landmarc’s been around 10 years and it’s the true definition of a neighborhood restaurant, where 60 to 65 percent of the menu never changes, because if Joe from down the street comes in, he probably already knows what he’s going to get and doesn’t want to try anything new.
We have a lamb shank with celery root purée, roasted Brussels sprouts and bacon that I bring back every winter because people love it.
And my goat cheese profiteroles with sweet garlic have been on the menu since we opened. They got a lot of press and I haven’t been able to change them [because of their popularity].
Is that annoying?
I’m a restaurateur. It’s all about making customers happy. That’s our main goal here.
What’s the hardest part about opening a new restaurant?
It’s probably the training. When you have a restaurant going for years, it kind of has a self-teaching method, but with a new restaurant you have to teach everybody from the busboy to the line cook to the dishwasher. It’s about getting the information to the right people. It’s, ‘That guy wasn’t working yesterday so he doesn’t know how we do the napkins now.’
If someone’s doing the job incorrectly we have to look at ourselves and see if we’ve given them the tools they need.
There are so many moving parts at a restaurant and getting everything to go where we want it to go. It’s a good thing that it’s difficult or everyone would want to do it.
Does running five restaurants help with sourcing?
It definitely helps with purchasing power, and you can develop a relationship with a guy who’s farming oysters out on the East End of Long Island. I have the ability to demand higher quality and better ingredients, and that makes it a better experience for the customer in the end.