Marvelous Market, the sandwich-and-salad shop that first brought artisan bread to Washington in the 1990s, has recently closed most of its area franchises, including locations in Dupont Circle, Chevy Chase, Ballston, Palisades, downtown DC, and McLean. Only the Georgetown store remains open, and it is scheduled for a reinvention.
Marvelous Market has been an institution in Washington since Mark Furstenberg opened his first location on Connecticut Avenue in July 1990. The acclaim was instantaneous, but despite customers willing to stand in line for the bread, Furstenberg’s bottom line was never strong. He declared bankruptcy in 1993 and sold the company to investment banker Michael Meyer. Furstenberg later opened Bread Line and G Street Food, and continued making bread for area restaurants.
Since 2007, the chain has been owned by Thompson Hospitality of Reston, Virginia, and the company has decided to look at “other options” for the brand, its president and chairman, Warren M. Thompson, tells Washingtonian. Marvelous Market currently has 14 locations on college campuses and in hospitals around the country, and could possibly expand to airports, Thompson says. The Dupont Circle location will reopen as a new brand in the next three months, according to Thompson—it will be called Willie T’s Lobster Shack and will feature “fresh lobster, crab, and shrimp rolls.” Thompson’s other local food businesses include Austin Grill, American Tap Room, and BRB.
The Georgetown location of Marvelous Market will be “revamped,” Thompson says, adding that there are 10 to 15 years remaining on the lease. “We plan to do some different things with the menu. We’re looking at bringing in a salad station, a pizza station.” The location already has a wine license, and Thompson mentions also procuring a liquor license. “We’ve got some good ideas about what we could do with that property,” he says, including a “wine garden,” but “we are constrained by local ordinances.” The property occupies a prime piece of land at Wisconsin Avenue and P Street and includes a parking lot. For years the location was home to the popular Neam’s Market.
What Thompson wants, he says, is to find a local partner to become the “keeper of the brand. Marvelous Market works the best when it’s owned and operated by a local restaurateur.”
Thompson says founder Furstenberg was the kind of local partner he seeks to “reinvigorate” the remaining Marvelous Market. “We’ve had some conversations with him,” he says. But no agreement was reached, and now none is possible, according to Furstenberg, who confirms he talked to Thompson in 2012 and even made an offer on the brand. “I tried to buy it,” he says. “I was prepared to pay a significant premium just to have the name and the locations. There was nothing of value except the name and locations, and the name was valuable only to me because I started the company. We couldn’t reach an agreement. They wanted way too much money.” Furstenberg said it’s “too late” to revisit the partnership now, because in March he plans to open Bread Furst, a bakery, at Connnecticut Avenue and Albemarle Street, Northwest.
Thompson, who lives in Northern Virginia and “learned the business” during nine years with Marriott, indicates he might make a deal with the right partner for the Georgetown Marvelous Market. “If I can find a local partner to help me reinvigorate the brand, I would welcome that,” he says. We asked if he expected the partner to make an investment. “Possibly but not necessarily,” he says. “I’ve never professed to know everything about the food-service business. But I can tell you if it makes money, that’s the thing we do in 45 states.”