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Fast, fresh food on a Bordeaux stage

March debuts the first of 80 US restaurants

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Lights! Food! Action!

March, a new 600-seat Boston restaurant with a European marketplace motif, is the latest addition to dining-as-entertainment in America.

You might call it a slice of faux brie in Beantown. A fusion of ambiance and aroma. The restaurant industry calls it "eatertainment."

"March is like a chaotic movie," says Thomas Sthr, the restaurant's manager. "It's like a food theater."

Indeed, everything here is a stage set: A bench sits shaded by an artificial tree; dried herbs and garlic dangle from rafters; gaily painted awning-covered carts clutter the flagstone-floored pathway. Then there are the fresh props: bins of baguettes, trays of fruit-laden tarts, baskets of produce, and bundles of flowers.

There are 14 different food stations, where you place your order and watch your chef perform from his or her distinct menu. One serves Rsti, Swiss hash browns ($2.75), another whole Cornish game hen ($8.99), another preps a half Maine lobster ($5.99). There's green salad ($2.50 to $5), brick-oven pizza, kabobs, pasta, sushi, Swiss sausages, and on and on.

There are no servers. Take your tray and find a seat in the European ambiance you want: the bistro, styled after Parisian taverns, the auberge with French country inn flavor; the locanda which is fashioned after an Italian country-side eatery, and the patio.

March stands squarely at the intersection of a traditional European marketplace and modern American marketing. Here fresh food is served with a side order of pandemonium.

The Swiss food-retailing giant Mvenpick, along with a Canadian partner, recently made their first foray into the US market at Boston's Prudential Center. This spring, Mvenpick will open a 1,000-seat restaurant at the World Trade Center in New York. Also targeted are Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and Seattle.

The plan is to open 80 US locations by 2005 - including Marchlinos, European fast food, and Take me! March, which offers a selection of prepared foods as well as meat, fish, cheese, and produce.

But can March succeed in America, the land of the hamburger joint?

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