The mood was bittersweet on Saturday night as the staff of Marché restaurant served its last dinner.
“I’ll miss everybody here,” said Gordon Harrelson, a bartender at Marché. “This is one of the finest groups of people I’ve ever worked with, and that’s serious—because I’ve worked in several restaurants.”
Saturday marked the end of Marché’s nine-year run as one of Menlo Park’s beloved downtown restaurants. The owners announced their intent to close the restaurant roughly three weeks ago.
“With deep sadness, [we] must announce the closing of Marché,” management wrote in the restaurant’s online blog on March 5. “After nine years of service, the difficult decision to close was made this past week, as we faced the expiration of our lease. We thank each of you for your continuous patronage and support, and we hope that you will return to dine with us in the next three weeks.”
And return they did. Executive Chef Guillaume Bienaimé said Marché saw a record-breaking number of reservations for the restaurant’s final few nights.
For the final weekend of business, Bienaimé and the Marché staff decided to throw one last “Nantucket Dinner” on Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26. The special event is one they have held annually for the past several years.
For the event’s menu, the restaurant partnered with Nantucket fisherman Steve Bender, who sends fresh seafood via FedEx from his native waters, which Bienaimé then creates a special menu around. This weekend, they served baked wild oysters, roasted flounder, Nantucket bay scallops, and pistachio cake for dessert.
“The ‘Nantucket Dinner has been our most popular event of all time, in general, so we figured we used that as our last weekend,” said Bienaime.
One of the most memorable aspects of the annual dinner is the stories Bender tells to diners, of his life at sea as a fisherman.
“He’s a fun guy, for sure, with a lot of interesting stories,” Bienaimé added.
On Saturday, Marché’s last night in business, staff members gathered at the bar around 4 p.m. to enjoy one last meal together before opening.
Some discussed their future plans, including jobs they already had lined up, or jobs they were hoping to land.
Harrelson, the bartender, already has a job offer from Mantra restaurant in Palo Alto, but said he will definitely miss his Marché family. Though some of his co-workers had not yet found their next place of employment, he said he had no doubt they would, soon.
“It’s hard to get a group of people that gels like we do here. And now, I’ll miss them all as we go our separate ways,” he said on Saturday night. “But, everyone here has a lot of talent, so I’m not worried about anybody.”
Chelsea Nichols, a line cook, said she had a few leads, but no solid offers yet. She is hoping that having Marché on her resume will help her get a job offer from Frances restaurant in San Francisco.
“They’ve always set a strict standard here. We’ve tried to keep everything house-made,” she said.
In fact, Nichols added, that is one of the reasons she will miss her job so much.
“It’s sad, because I feel we have a great kitchen dynamic,” she said. “It makes a big difference when you feel like you’re working for a friend. You’re willing to dedicate more to your job; and here, that was really easy.”
Joanna Fotch seemed especially sad on Saturday night as she enjoyed the last staff meal with her co-workers, her friends.
Fotch worked at Marché for three years, moving up in the ranks as she proved herself. She started off as a line cook and then worked as a food server, before being promoted to assistant manager of the entire restaurant.
“It’s going to be hard not to see everybody on a regular basis,” she said. “It’s like leaving a family.”
Fotch already has a job offer lined up. She said she will take a few weeks off to relax, and will start work soon opening up a brand new business at the San Francisco Airport called Napa Farms Market, which will consist of a fine dining restaurant inside the airport, paired with a fresh market that sells fine cheeses, fresh produce and more.
Food server Caitlin Eanes said she felt much the same way—like she was leaving her family.
“I’m going to miss this place immensely. Everyone here has basically become a family,” Eanes said. “We’re all very close, so it will be hard to separate from the team we have going here. It’s going to be very sad.”
Two top people at Marché that don’t yet have their next jobs lined up are wine director and sommelier, John Sanders, and the executive chef himself, Bienaimé.
While Sanders said he is exploring several offers, Bienaime has a very good reason for not lining up future employment just yet—he just became a father on Friday, when his wife gave birth to baby boy Jeffrey.
“So I’ll be at home, helping to take care of him,” Bienaimé said proudly. “I’m not in a hurry to find another job.”
French-born Bienaimé, who also worked his way up in the ranks at Marché over the past seven years, said he will definitely miss his home-away-from-home.
“It’s been great. I love working here,” he said on Saturday. “I’ll miss getting to cook every day, and running a restaurant.”
If the number of customers that poured into the restaurant on Friday and Saturday are any indication, there are a lot of people who will miss Marché.