In New York’s ever-evolving restaurant culture, it can be difficult to remain relevant.
Marea, a James Beard Award-winning fine dining destination, has proven to be an exception.
Marea continues to thrive as a New York culinary institution despite a recession, a global pandemic, and the uprising of Instagram-bait restaurant experiences.
What’s the secret to their longstanding success?
We’re guessing their famous octopus and bone marrow fusilli might have something to do with it.
We sat down with Ahmass Fakahany, CEO of the Altamarea Group, to discuss how Marea has dominated the New York City dining scene since its inception.
Marea has been integral to the New York City dining scene for over a decade. How does it stay culturally relevant after all this time?
For us, it is about striking a harmonious balance between high-quality consistency, innovation, and creativity. Many of our clients look forward to enjoying both their tried-and-true favorites, as well as some new flavors, preparations, and seasonally composed dishes. But it is more than our consistency… there are two additional factors that I believe have kept Marea integral to the New York City dining scene for over a decade. One is our commitment to “CRM,” or client relationship management. We are relentless in our CRM efforts for both our regulars and new clients, constantly looking for ways to customize their experience and identify any preferences that may elevate their next visit.
Second is that we strive to be impeccable with our word when it comes to our marketing efforts so that we can reach a broader client demographic. We have clients of all ages dining with us every day, and while many of our guests are between the ages of 30 and 65, part of what makes the soul of the restaurant is that all our clients really feel at home when they are here. The energy at Marea feels like you are dining at a “classic, chic dinner party,” and all your friends are invited.
Why do you think New Yorkers are so attracted to Marea and culinary institutions alike?
New Yorkers and visitors alike love to try new places, but still, they’ll all have their essential go-to's. While you need the adventure of a new place, which often we are for new clients, clients also want a reliable experience and feeling, like the comfort of guest recognition and the consistency of a great product – or dish. That’s New York; a visit to the MET, a walk in Central Park… dining at Marea never gets old. As a result, we know it is important for us to not only live up to, but also exceed, expectations. We want to continue building on each guest’s prior experience.
Marea has been a Midtown West hotspot for 10+ years. What aspects of your brand’s DNA have changed over the years and what has stayed the same?
I am pleased that in recent years the diversity of our management and server teams have both expanded to reflect the world we live in and the global client base we serve. Marea has always been an international and multi-ethnicity brand but now even more so. Marea has also grown into much more of a multi-sensory experience in recent years, where our dining room has increasingly become a living organism that evolves throughout the evening, with intentional changes made to the sound, music, tempo, and volume. From the lighting changes as the evening progresses to the new art from Avant-garde artists, we have paid special attention to all the visuals in Marea’s dining room. Of course, the food fully complements all of this and speaks for itself.
How is Marea revolutionizing the concept of fine dining?
In a couple of ways. First, under Chef Lauren DeSteno’s leadership, we have placed a high priority on environmental consciousness, and I am pleased to advise that we recently received our designation as a zero-waste restaurant. Therefore, we are both dazzling our clients with our culinary program, but we’re still doing right by the environment and society. I think the other element is that we’re still innovating when it comes to our dishes, and we’re placing a heightened allegiance on working with local producers and ingredients. Lastly, we are adding a little fun to fine dining. We are bringing in some playful elements after all these years. As an example, we just launched a new Marea Caviar Slider. It is deliciously decadent with a homemade bun, caviar, tuna tartare, and a dose of creme fraiche and chives. We are serving it at the bar, but you can order it in the main dining room if you are "in the know."
With the rise of Instagram-bait restaurant experiences in New York, how has Marea played into social media phenomenon while staying true to its roots?
Social media has been a phenomenal partner during the pandemic period. We were able to engage clients and new clients in a different way. We added a new terrace and beautified the rough scaffold that was in front with a unique floral theme during the height of the pandemic. We fought to survive yet stayed true to our roots. We made sure we were relevant and in touch with our client and we added many new guests to the Marea roster during the difficult period. Our social media followers have almost doubled as a result. So all in good balance. We communicate with our clients in different ways with different mediums while keeping our core.
Marea attracts those who “don’t chase luxury but live it.” How would you describe Marea’s ideal consumer?
Our ideal clients, and I can say this for most, are thinking about coming to Marea way before they arrive and they arrive wanting to immediately start their journey from the first cocktails to our sublime wines, and onwards— and we find they are in a great mood always. This gives us the motivation to ramp it up and make it as special as we can. This client wants to spoil themself and feel they deserve it. They want to be part of the “dinner party,” environment and add to it. They savor understated elegance in an intimate, yet comfortable and chic ambiance. They want to have fun, they want to capture the whole experience, and they want to live to talk about it. That is Marea and its clients.
Photography by: David Olu, Liz Clayman, Tara Donne