The Story Behind The Marriott Story
Staff writer Michael Rosenwald discusses his profile of the Marriotts in last Sunday's magazine.
After my magazine cover story on Bill Marriott ran this past weekend, a lot of people have asked how I was able to connect on such a personal level with a guy who is more than four decades older than me. The answer is very simple: The New Garland Coffee Shop.
Back in the late 1970s, my grandfather and father owned the New Garland, a 108-seat diner in a bustling office building in downtown Chicago. I was just a little kid then, but I have fond memories of my dad parking me in a corner booth and feeding me French fries all day. A few times, I think I recall him pointing out a frequent customer, whose name was Saul Bellow. A guy named Bob cooked. Bob liked to drink. If he said hello to you in the morning you knew he was drunk.
I told Bill Marriott and his representatives about the coffee shop early on in my dealings with them, as a way for them to get to know me. The story of Marriott International, after all, begins with Bill Marriott's parents starting a little root beer stand, which later became a chain of popular family eateries called the Hot Shoppes. Bill Marriott grew up in the Hot Shoppes and to this day he lectures on what he learned about making a proper hamburger: Never press down the meat with the spatula! Always toast the bun! (It prevents the bun from getting soggy.) Over time, the Hot Shoppes got into airline catering and other food businesses, and the chain was eventually overtaken by Bill Marriott's desire - and vision -- to open hotels wherever he could.
I told Bill Marriott the story about the New Garland and I tell it again now because I think it represents what separates the Marriotts from the Rosenwalds, and perhaps the thousands of other family restaurants around the country today. And that is, the ability to see around the corner to that next opportunity, and not only to see that opportunity but to have the tenacity, the vision, and the sheer guts to make it work. The Marriotts did that, and today they have a company worth $18 billion.
As for my father and grandfather, they sold the New Garland after a few years to an entrepreneur who turned the place into a New Orleans-style restaurant called Heaven on Seven. It is wildly popular, and the company now has several locations. I called my dad to tell him I was writing this. He waxed poetic about the coffee shop and marveled at the success of New Orleans-style cooking in Chicago, well north of Louisiana. He said, "Who knew?"
Click here for a photo gallery that accompanied the Marriott story.
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