Angie Mar is like a breath of fresh air in an increasingly self-conscious dining scene. She doesn’t particularly care that there aren’t robust vegan or gluten-free options on the menu of her meat-centric restaurant, The Beatrice Inn — where she was once just the chef, but is now the owner as well.
Her uncompromising, no-holds-barred approach to cooking has worked very successfully in her favor. Her revamp of the restaurant after she took over ownership a few months ago earned universal praise from critics, capped off by a glowing review from Pete Wells in the New York Times. Here, she discusses what it was like going from being the cook to being the boss, and how she’s able to make her restaurant stand out in the most competitive dining city in the world.
You were born and raised in Seattle, but now work and live in New York. What’s the difference between the two as dining cities?
I spent my childhood in Seattle, but my adult life has largely been in New York. Whenever I go back to Seattle to visit my family, I am always surprised at the tremendous amount of restaurants that are there — it’s a really great scene. Lots of vegetables, Asian flavors. But there is no other dining scene in the world like New York.
My friend once told me that New Yorkers are born all over the world — people just don’t know they are New Yorkers yet. I don’t think there is another city that’s as diverse and condensed as New York. It’s a melting pot of cultures and different cuisines — an expression of all these different ideas. You can’t get that anywhere else.
Before the Beatrice Inn, you had the opportunity to work at some pretty iconic establishments, including The Spotted Pig and Marlow & Sons. What did you learn from those experiences?
When I worked for Andrew Tarlow at Marlow & Sons, we were getting vegetables from the most amazing local producers, proteins from local farmers, I was working with ingredients I never got to work with, and the menu changed almost every day. That’s where I learned how to cook. With The Spotted Pig, it’s just this machine. It’s a New York standard. Working for April Bloomfield taught me how to run a Michelin-star restaurant — the business aspect of it. She taught me a commitment to a level of perfection I didn’t know existed before her, and I’ll always be thankful for that, because it’s something I carry on to my kitchen today.
What initially attracted you to shifting over to be the chef at The Beatrice Inn?
I have always been a hustler. I don’t stay in one place for very long. I learned what I needed at The Spotted Pig, but at the end of the day, as a chef, you want to run your own kitchen. You don’t want to cook someone else’s food your whole life. The Beatrice Inn was really a piece of New York history, and an opportunity to run a restaurant kitchen. At the time, it was really struggling — the chef before me got one of the worst reviews in the New York Times that year. It was on the verge of closing, and people thought I was crazy to make the jump. I didn’t even know if I wanted the job, but I wanted my own kitchen. I knew that if I could bring that restaurant back from the dead and make it successful, that would make my career.
Why did you decide to jump from being chef of The Beatrice Inn to owning it?
It’s the same principle — I didn’t want to work for someone else the rest of my life. I wanted to build something for myself. The opportunity came to buy it, and I jumped at the chance. It’s not every day that you get to buy a piece of New York history and have the honor to carry on that legacy. Who wouldn’t want that opportunity?
What was the transition into ownership like? What were the biggest challenges?
I’m still learning about those challenges every day. It’s all consuming. I don’t ever turn off the phone. There’s never a time I’m not working.
When you’re an owner, it’s more about the minutiae, everything from staffing to credit card processors to bank accounts to the bigger picture — which is, how am I going to change The Beatrice Inn and make it my own? We essentially turned it into a family-owned business. My business partner is my cousin, my brothers do all the design and social media. Having my family come together to get behind this restaurant and turn it into something amazing is more than I could ask for.
So that glowing New York Times review you all received a few months ago must have felt pretty great.
Yes. I think I got halfway through and just started crying. Pete Wells really captured the soul of that restaurant and wrote something so beautiful. He gave the restaurant the second chance that it needed — particularly in a dining city like New York, which is incredibly competitive. It’s hard for people to get a singular shot, let alone a second shot — it’s humbling.
What has changed the most since ownership moved over to you?
Everything has changed, from the vibe to the menu. I want it to be welcoming, unpretentious, and just a lot of fun. All of my best relationships, my best memories, they start at the dinner table. So if The Beatrice Inn could be that place where people create their best memories and relationships, that’s all I could want.
New York’s West Village is such a saturated dining neighborhood — how do you deal with all the competition?
It’s funny; I actually don’t really go out to eat. If you asked me what anyone was doing in the West Village two blocks away, I wouldn’t know. I am stuck in my Beatrice bubble. What is important to me is that the food we cook — we believe in it wholeheartedly. There is nothing on my menu that I don’t love. I am not one of those chefs who cooks to placate. I don’t have vegetarian or vegan options because I’m not passionate about it. And that’s ok. That’s what I think is exciting about what we are doing. We believe in everything we produce in our kitchen, just as we believe in every drink we produce in our bar. It’s the vision of what we want this place to be.
That seems like an especially bold approach in today’s dining arena, what with all the dietary restrictions that chefs are always bending to meet.
The only person I cook for is my cooks and myself. We cook what we are passionate about. I’m not going to put an extra dish on the menu to placate the 10 percent of diners who come in and want to eat a certain way. You come to the restaurant to eat the food we want you to eat. Our food is not for everybody, and we accept that — the important part is that we are cooking food that has soul.
And where does the soul of your cooking come from?
My family was in the restaurant industry when I was growing up. My dad was always the big cook at home — so I remember being five years old on a step stool, cooking with my dad. So much of what we cook in the restaurant is based off of what I ate growing up, what I ate when we traveled. It’s really great to be able to draw that inspiration. When I talk about soul, that’s where it comes from for me.
What are the plans for the future? Any desire to open another restaurant?
I would always love to expand. I don’t want to grow to the point where it’s so big that I’m not actually in the kitchen, but if we did another location, London would be amazing. My mother grew up in the UK, which is where my love for meat pies and Sunday roasts comes from. London is such a great dining city, and I think our food would do very well there. We have no plans right now, but like I said, if we were going to expand, it wouldn’t be to Los Angeles or San Francisco. It would be London.