Master of the Menu: Joe Marcus brings culinary expertise to Movie Tavern

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Cinemas Features

This month we shine the spotlight on Joe Marcus, Movie Tavern’s senior VP, culinary and guest experience. Joe is a native of Dallas, Texas, and represents the next generation of professionals in the foodservice and cinema-eatery segment. He studied business administration at Stephen F. Austin State University during the mid-’80s and he has  impressive experience on his resume, developing his skills through the likes of TGI Fridays, the Hard Rock Café and House of Blues. He has enough diversification in his skill set to represent business dining at Google and Bridgewater. All of these assets make him a star at Movie Tavern.

Joe Marcus was born in Dallas to parents in the retail industry. “My dad was a haberdasher. He worked for James K. Wilson,” he chuckles, “and my mom was Mrs. Sears.” Joe and his family experienced life outside Texas when he was growing up since his dad moved the family to Arkansas and Connecticut for job opportunities, but his heart was always in Texas. “My father was my mentor as far as business goes, and he loved math and words; [he] had a gift for crossword puzzles that, unfortunately, never stuck with me.”

Joe Marcus has always been in the foodservice and hospitality field. His first job was with Chili’s and he became a prodigy when, at age 22, he was given the kitchen manager’s position at TGI Fridays in Addison, Texas. His talents were immediately recognized, which led to him playing a significant role in opening new locations. “My philosophy was to create a repeatable, reliable machine,” he states proudly. He left Fridays for an opportunity at Hard Rock, where he learned to blend food with entertainment and music. In 1997, he accepted a primary role at House of Blues, again merging entertainment with culinary exercises. He explains, “At House of Blues it was all about building a culture and living it every day.”

Marcus enjoyed his tenure at HOB for 15 years before leaving for an exciting opportunity at Google to engineer a team of professionals under the unique atmosphere of transparency, testing and freedom as the program manager. At Google, Joe had the responsibility and direction of 35 cafés, 170 micro-kitchens, five hot-beverage outlets and the service of over 19,000 meals per day.

Marcus credits his move to Movie Tavern to Don Watson, the former COO at HOB. “Don was a trusted friend and mentor for years. He was always focused on the core four: clean, well-maintained venue; friendly, personable staff; excellent guest services; ‘Hot Food Hot—Cold Food Cold!’ He knew I had moved back to Dallas and he asked me to come consult for 45 days. Well, 45 days turned into an exciting new job.”

He is humble when he says part of his success comes from “a strong work ethic and a willingness to say I did not understand.” Marcus continues, “It is really about the people, from George Solomon and John Caparella to Ron Krueger and Jim Wood. They are honest, upfront and have a real desire to improve the business, and I felt I had something valuable to offer.”

He notes, “The cinema industry is the strangest business model I have ever been a part of, as well as one of the most challenging. The dine-in theatre model is like eight to thirteen individual dining rooms all seating at once—plus eating in the dark with a somewhat limited space. In this business you have to be able to constrict and contract.” He references the challenge of serving hundreds of people at a moment’s notice and then doing little for two hours. He suggests that in the new era of foodservice in cinemas, people in the kitchen must be highly organized; preparation is everything. “Our challenge is to get a large group of people to do good work all in the same motion.”

Much like his father, Joe “wears a lot of hats.” He is creative and artistic in how he gets things done, yet he engineers that method of driving the repeatable, reliable machine while still being a magician to make it all look easy. As an example, he states, “We need to drive our beverage business with creative garnishes and staying in touch with new products.” On the food side, “we need to be bold in flavor and approachable in design, due to the fact our guests are eating in the dark.” Then he must master the healthier options: “Balance, balance, balance—you need to cater to those of all palates and pleasures. Some patrons will eat for fuel, others eat for pleasure—I want both to be satisfied.”

Now that Joe is a confirmed moviegoer, he loves popcorn (no butter) and Sour Patch Kids. However, when enjoying the Movie Tavern experience, “I would say a little spinach and artichoke dip followed by a Game Day Platter washed down with a Ketel One and tonic.” Asked if he is a Dallas Cowboys fan, he answers, “Yes, when they win.” And he loves cookbooks of all types: “I just love the joy of cooking!” His favorite movie is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, andlucky for us there is nothing cuckoo about Joe Marcus.

Joe and his wife Zarena and have five children: Kali, 27; Lauren, 26; Joseph, 11; Peyton, six, and Avery, four.