Marco Shaw could eat Maryland Blue Crabs every day for the rest of his life. A native of Washington, D.C., with stones throw proximity to both the Eastern Seaboard’s bounty and familial roots – food is the beginning and end of all conversations.
“My whole family is in D.C., and so I got to spend a lot of time with my great-grandmother who cooked a lot. I was there every day after school for about eight or nine years. So, being there with my great-grandmother influenced my desire to eat and always be around food.”
And soon, it became his career. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Randolph-Macon College, he decided to take a year to work in a restaurant before beginning medical school.
“I loved everything about working in a restaurant. I loved the energy in the building, I loved how it felt like every day, we were throwing a party – weddings, birthdays, engagement announcements. I loved the whole feel. And that’s what initially changed it for me. I decided after that that I wanted to own a restaurant.”
Shaw talked to the chef and the owners about what they felt was the best path to restaurant ownership for him.
“They suggested that I should learn how to cook and learn how to manage a restaurant by the book and not take on people’s bad habits. They told me to take classes on restaurant management and learn how to operate a restaurant the way they would teach you to run it in school. So I learned how to run a restaurant that way instead of learning from someone’s shortcuts.”
Shaw began a three-year American Culinary Federation apprenticeship at the Tobacco Company Restaurant in Richmond, Va., while also pursuing a second degree, this one in culinary arts and hotel/restaurant management. He went on to cook at restaurants in New Orleans, New York, Santa Fe and Portland, Ore.
“I traveled around the country and cooked for different people. I knew eventually that I wanted to do different styles of Americana cuisine. I picked different types of people who were doing different types of regional Americana and I would go work for them anywhere from six months to two years.”
The draw of Americana cuisine: “It’s a melting pot.”
Shaw opened his first restaurant, Fife, in Portland in 2002, hiring Kevin Gillespie as a sous chef in 2006. When Gillespie left Portland for Atlanta, he and Shaw remained good friends. In 2010, Shaw and family moved back East to Durham, N.C., partnering in his third and fourth restaurants where he was the chef at Piedmont Restaurant. When Gillespie decided he wanted to expand his company from an Atlanta base, Shaw was his first call. Shaw joined the Red Beard Restaurants Company at its launch in 2015. And now Atlanta is home.
“There’s a young creative class that either stayed here or moved here the last 10 to 15 years and it has given Atlanta this new subculture of people who go out and dine. There are a lot of young people who are excited about the south and the proximity to farm land. As a cook, there are very few places you can live in where you can eat at a fine dining restaurant and it won’t break the bank. And you can eat Russian food and Ecuadorian food, Guatemalan, El Salvadorian and Soul Food all within the same city.”
With 20-plus years of experience in all facets of the restaurant industry, Shaw is able to relate to all of the company’s employees and works hard to help them determine the roles for which they are best suited. As the vice president, Shaw is tasked with helping steer the company and making the visions of the Chief Ideas Man – Gillespie – come to life.
“Kevin comes up with ideas about concepts, and I create the form and function of how we do certain things with the systems we have in place. I make the ideas that he has come to life and I oversee the day to day operations of all seven of our entities.”
The good side of his shift to the operational side of the culinary industry, a full circle moment to his enjoying his great grandmother’s meals as he came of age, is that his family now gets the best of his culinary skills consistently. “My kids eat well. Before, I was only able to do one night a week cooking at home and the other nights I spent cooking for hundreds of others. Now they get me at home five nights a week.”