Marcus Samuelsson: Why I Chose Newark

In his own words, renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson explains why he decided to open his latest restaurant in Brick City.

Marcus Samuelsson shines as bartender Markus Jackson shakes.
Marcus Samuelsson shines as bartender Markus Jackson shakes.
Photo by Brad Trent

As told to Eric Levin

Growing up in Sweden, what I knew about Newark was Whitney Houston and hip-hop. But after coming to America, I looked into it more and realized it is a blue-collar port, like my hometown, Gothenburg, and is going through a similar evolution, from manufacturing to tech.
“Sport, especially hockey, is important in both towns. Then there’s music. Whether rock and roll, hip-hop or jazz, Newark has always been a center for that. And for years now, people love coming to Newark to hear all kinds of music at NJPAC. So that’s what I could draw on. Now how could I be a part of it?

“I looked at a number of documentaries, including Brick City [the award-winning 2009 Sundance series featuring then mayor Cory Booker]. Cory told me personally about how often he’d call Whole Foods and they hung up on him, but he kept believing. [Last year, Whole Foods opened a market in the renovated former Hahne & Co. building that also houses Marcus B&P.] Looking at the architecture of downtown, you can tell these buildings are stunning.

“Newark, to me, is filled with ambition. The level of pride people from Newark have is very similar to people from Harlem [home of Samuelsson’s flagship, Red Rooster].

“And you cannot talk about Newark without talking about the history of the civil rights movement there, especially for me as an immigrant and a person of color. My new series on PBS, No Passport Required, talks about immigrant contributions, starting small businesses and providing jobs. Guess what? The Spanish and Portuguese communities in Newark have done that forever. Restaurants, too, have always been hiring people from all backgrounds. They reflect real America. My opportunity in Newark is to help create jobs for the next generation of hospitality professionals.”

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