Iconic Toronto restaurant and sister bar abruptly shutters after 16 years
In a truly monumental blow to Toronto's food and restaurant scene, an immensely loved local stalwart and matching bar has announced its closure after a decade and a half.
Serving the city farm-to-table and seasonally-driven cuisine, Marben is known for its ambience, vibes and great food.
Its secret attachment, The Cloak Bar, which opened to rave reviews in 2016, is a favourite for unique cocktails and late-night eats with a loungey vibe.
"The decision to close happened organically, as an evolution of business and lifestyle, but more importantly it just feels like the right time. 16 years is a long time for an independent restaurant," Benstead tells blogTO.
Still drawn towards hospitality, Benstead shares that he's open to exploring other opportunities in the future and that some of his senior management team have other goals they want to pursue too.
Marben truly was a trailblazer in the local food scene, revamping in 2010 as one of Toronto's first farm-to-table spots.
Head over during the day and you could sit in on a wine seminar or bread-baking demonstration. By night, you'd be partying into the wee hours of the morning with some renowned DJ sets.
Years later in 2016, The Cloak Bar was opened on the lower level beneath Marben, designed for more after-hours vibes.
A number of the city's notable chefs have also walked through its doors.
Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan of Richmond Station took over the reins from opening chef Craig Alley, and introduced the city to the first of many Sausage Leagues. The latter pitted chefs from some of Toronto's hottest restaurants in a battle of the porcine nature.
Current executive chef Chris Locke took over in 2017, shaping Marben's culinary program to feature not only seasonal but also sustainable fare, including an emphasis on fermentation in the contemporary Canadian menu.
During the unfortunate era of 2020, the restaurant and bar quickly pivoted to a changing market, eliminating tipping and boosting benefits for employees.
They also opened a market with sustainable grocery items, a takeout program and a virtual wine club.
A line of their in-house preservatives like cauliflower leaf kimchi and small batch vinegars also helped spread Marben's reach across the city.
Its long history means that Marben's first clients have grown with the restaurant and watched it transform over the years.
"The hospitality industry brings a tangible richness to life that is unmatched. Many of our guests met here as young adults, celebrated life's milestones and now visit Marben for brunch with the next generation in tow," said Benstead, in a prepared statement.
Marben is named after the family home where Benstead was born in a small English village called Stonham Aspal. That home was named after Benstead's parents, Mary and Ben.
Naturally, Benstead's British roots came through Marben's menu, which can be seen (and tasted) in their Sunday roast and fish dinner plates.
He tells blogTO in a follow-up interview that the restaurant was a dedication to his parents and the "expression of hospitality" he grew up with.
Since announcing the closure, Benstead said he is "overwhelmed" with the outpouring of messages and support from friends, clients and old employees.
When asked what's next, Benstead tells blogTO he'll be "celebrating 16 successful years and involve as many people as possible. And to help our staff to transition into the next steps of their lives. This really is a family."
"I couldn't be more proud of all that the Marben team has accomplished and am looking forward to closing out this chapter just as we started… with delicious food, good friends, great music, and genuine hospitality. This is a happy ending," he said.
Marben's last full-service will be held on Jan. 29, 2023.
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