Metz grew up in kitchens, starting as a dishwasher at his father’s restaurants in Pennsylvania. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from Penn State, then graduated at the top of his class at the Culinary Institute of America.
After working in several restaurants around New York City, and in research and development for TGI Fridays, Metz moved to Atlanta in 1996, and soon opened Hi Life Kitchen & Cocktails in Norcross with DiGiorgio. In 2001, Metz and DiGiorgio opened their second restaurant, Aqua Blue in Roswell.
“We were running two pretty high-end restaurants, with Hi Life and Aqua Blue, and we loved what that stood for. But we also wanted to create something a little more approachable,” Metz said, describing the Marlow’s ethos.
“We really focused on the word ‘tavern’ a lot. That neighborhood gathering place. We thought that having that foundation, we could take that high-end experience and make it into a more casual setting, where people could come with the family, come for a business lunch, come for dinner, come for drinks with friends.”
From the beginning, Marlow’s was designed to be a multi-unit neighborhood concept, and that meant finding the right places to open. Starting out in Alpharetta worked well because of its proximity to Hi Life and Aqua Blue, Metz explained.
“Hi Life was 5 miles away from Aqua Blue, and then Marlow’s was another 5 miles away from Aqua Blue, and 6 miles from Hi Life, so it was kind of a little triangle,” he said. “We knew the neighborhood well, so we thought it would be an opportunity to take advantage of that. When we had all three restaurants, people would have lunch at one, have a drink at another, then have dinner at another.”
The Marlow’s menu has evolved over time, and there are always seasonal and daily specials. But the wagyu burger, known as the “Royale With Cheese” for its satirical nod to McDonald’s, is still an everyday staple.
“We wanted to have the best cheeseburger we could possibly offer,” Metz said. “Appetizers and our burger are top sellers, but we have great entrees, as well. We started out with about 25 items. We probably have about 30 now. Me being the chef of our company, I like to change stuff, and keep it fresh. But there are things we can’t take off the menu, like the steak salad.”
Customer relations and loyalty have been hallmarks of the Marlow’s model, and that’s served the company well, both during the recession of 2008-2009, and after COVID-19 arrived in 2020.
“The recession hit, so everyone was struggling, and everything was bad,” Metz said. “But we were in the neighborhoods, close to people’s homes, and we had a great check average in terms of what guests wanted to spend, so the niche at that time was perfect.”
The pandemic was a much bigger challenge, in multiple ways, as Marlow’s locations closed and staff were furloughed.
But the company set up systems for to-go and third-party delivery, invested in Reme Halo air filtration systems and partitions, and converted some locations into purchasing warehouses to share resources. Maybe most important, Metz aided staff financially, and hosted meal pickups for furloughed employees.
Hank Clark, the vice president of operations for Marlow’s Tavern, had a big hand in reopening the restaurants. Clark, who helped create the concept, runs the day-to-day business.
“From the moment that we had to shut down to guests, we started planning our reopening,” Clark said. “What were the rules going to be? How are we going to do it safely? What did we need to implement within the restaurant? I think if you look back, there were some really scary times, but stuff to be proud of, too. We saved our company. We could have lost it all.”
Another major change for Marlow’s was the persistence of to-go and delivery orders. “Takeout wasn’t our niche,” Clark said. “It was a pretty small percentage of our business. But we had to reimagine what 25%-35% of our business going out a window would look like. We had no third-party (delivery) anywhere; now there’s third-party everywhere.”
As a result of that experience, Marlow’s takeout has become another path to making guests feel special. That includes adding a fluffy Ghirardelli Chocolate brownie to every order, with a message that reads: “Just a little sweet treat to let you know how grateful we are to have you as our guest. Thank you!”
“We try to plus it up for our guests and give them treats and surprises like brownies and some other things that we still do today,” Metz said. “Because they were supporting us, we wanted to give back to them, as well. That’s been our mantra forever. We’ve always tried to support our neighborhoods because they’ve supported us and given us an opportunity to be successful.”
In 2021, Metz opened the Woodall on Atlanta’s Westside, described as “an approachable luxury dining experience and menu of globally inspired contemporary favorites.” That experience led him to think about other concepts, and imagine how Marlow’s might evolve in the future.
“We built these restaurants to be ageless and timeless,” Metz said, “and so you can walk in and it feels warm and comfortable. Like a great neighborhood spot that could be my place. But we continued to evolve the design.
“This year, we’re reinvesting in our facilities, and we’re going to redesign four or five locations to continue to keep them fresh for the neighborhoods. We’re also going to grow, and open up some more Marlow’s, and explore some new concepts.”
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