Martin White: Irishman, Restaurateur and Dad
Martin White is perhaps the nicest, most jovial, and craziest (more on this later) person that I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing. In his words he is “a little bit nuts.” In fact, you have to be just a little bit crazy to enter into a lifelong career as a restaurateur. But, before getting into the amazing details of Martin’s career, I want us to first explore his journey to the States.
It all started in 1986, when Martin White made the trek from Ireland across the ocean to the United States. As a young 21-year-old lad, Martin came to the Alexandria area on a tourist visa. It should come as no surprise that this charming man met his future wife on his very first day in Alexandria. Two children and many years later, the two are still happily in love and looking forward to Martin’s next big restaurant adventure.
Martin’s love of the restaurant industry began as a 14-year-old boy in Dublin, Ireland, where he worked in food service on the trains. When Martin came to the U.S. he started working as a food runner at a Hamburger Hamlet owned restaurant. Hamburger Hamlet was the enormously successful joint venture of actor Harry Lewis and his girlfriend turned wife Marilyn Lewis. The chain first opened its doors in Los Angeles in 1950 and soon spread to multiple locations across the country. When Martin White joined the team, he was attracted to the chain because of their dedication to their employees. According to Martin, “Marilyn Lewis was a genius and ahead of her time.” She understood that a restaurant should be more than a place to have good food. “A restaurant needs to look after its staff. After all, the best restaurants become a home away from home for both patrons and employees,” Martin White.
After a decade of learning from the best and climbing the corporate ladder, Martin left Hamburger Hamlet to open his own restaurants. King Street Blues in Kingstowne, Alexandria was the first restaurant that Martin and his partner Doug Harvey opened. Martin licensed the concept from Ralph Capobianco, the owner of the original King Street Blues in Old Town, Alexandria. From 1998 – 2007 Martin and Doug opened a total of four King Street Blues locations: Kingstowne, Crystal City, Stafford, and Courthouse. The Stafford and Courthouse locations have subsequently been sold, while the Crystal City location remains alive and thriving. And when it comes to the Kingstowne location, let’s just say that it is getting an entirely new look and name!
That’s right, Martin White is at it again; only this time, he is finally fulfilling his life long dream of opening Fiona’s Irish pub. According to Martin, a proper Irish pub should be, “a place to have a casual drink and good home cooked meals.” All too often, Irish pubs in America have given a false representation of Irish cuisine. Fiona’s Irish Pub is going to change that image by serving locally sourced, traditional, home cooked meals. And if anyone knows good old-fashioned Irish cooking it is Martin White.
As a young child, Martin spent his summers on the Shores of Lough Arrow in County Sligo, Ireland at his grandparent’s farm. While on the farm, Martin watched as his grandmother lovingly kneaded dough into delicious homemade breads. Farm life taught Martin that good food should be crafted from ingredients, which are readily available. “Classic seafood dishes come from Ireland. Creativity comes from using what’s at hand.” Martin White.
With this concept in mind, Fiona’s Irish Pub is going to celebrate bringing a bit of Ireland to Alexandria. Not only is the pub going to serve delicious food and various brews, but it is also going to embody Martin’s love of the restaurant world. This industry has allowed Martin to interact with people from all walks of life. When people work in a restaurant they bring a bit of their culture with them. In Martin’s eyes, his restaurants represent, “good, solid, hard-working people.”
To this day, Martin believes that his success has been due to his ability to see employees as more than just numbers on the screen. Through this dedication Martin has helped to create more than 500 jobs in the restaurant industry. It is with bated breath that the residents of Alexandria and the surrounding areas await the March 2014 opening of Fiona’s Irish Pub – a place where friends can meet, strangers can become new friends, cultures can be embraced, and the Irish tradition of good home cooked meals can finally make its journey across the ocean and straight to your plate.
From tourist visa to green card to becoming a citizen on St. Patrick’s Day in 1996, Martin White has truly lived the American Dream. Be on the look out for Martin White as he performs his duties as Grand Marshal at the infamous Old Town St. Patrick’s Day parade. Given that this year’s theme is a celebration of immigrants from all cultures, it is particularly fitting that the honor of Grand Marshal should be bestowed upon Martin White, who believes that, “societies aren’t built on one particular heritage. Alexandria is a community city; I am proud of the things that I have done to help this community and I am excited to serve as Grand Marshal.”
Written by: Laura Parker