Executive team in place, Kotis pivots at Marshall Free House

by Jeff Sykes

Despite years of planning and effort required to open the Marshall Free House, entrepreneur Marty Kotis isn’t afraid to take a bold step in a new direction.

Word began to spread Saturday night that Marshall Free House would close after dinner service on Sept. 4. An email obtained by YES! Weekly on Sunday contained the details.

With Chef Jay Pierce and mixologist Mark Weddle now part of the team, Marshall Free House will close after service on Sept. 4 and reopen as Farmer’s Realm, which “will focus on global flavors and feature local ingredients.” The transition will begin this week, with an expected open date sometime in late December.

In a phone interview Sunday, Kotis noted that Marshall Free House may have been too narrow of a concept for Greensboro and was hampered in its early stages with a public perception of being “too pricey.”

“One of the things that is key in Greensboro is making sure you are not a special occasion restaurant, that you are more of a place people like to come once a week or once every two weeks,” Kotis said. “I think they love the restaurant but they initially saw us as a bit pricey. I don’t think we are that now, but to reconvince somebody or change their perceptions — is difficult without rebranding.

“The main part of it is that we didn’t have Jay on board or Mark Weddle on board. I think if we had both of them on board at first then we would have done a concept that embraced their strengths.”

With Pierce, that strength is in the “farm to fork” movement and building on his strong relationships with local farmers.

“That’s difficult to do in a branded concept that is more UK focused,” Kotis said. “If we are going to have a flagship that can try out stuff for Darryl’s and Hey Mon and other places, it’s hard to do that within the confines of Marshall Free House.”

Kotis said he sees his investments in Greensboro as a “market basket of investments” with the bulk being in real estate. Restaurants play a large part of his portfolio and are gathered under the Kick Ass Concepts umbrella. Those holdings directly in Greensboro include Marshall Free House, Darryl’s, Burger Warfare and anticipated ventures in Caribbean cuisine at Hey Mon on Market Street and a new concept at the former Ham’s Lakeside.

With Pierce, Weddle, and Kick Ass Concepts president, Bart Ortiz, on board, Kotis wants to play to his executive team’s strengths. The team will be able to market test concepts at Farmer’s Realm and then roll them out at other establishments.

“We just have a lot of different projects going on and we need a flagship where we can try out different foods,” he said. “We’re changing from an English gastropub to more global-influenced flavors where we can try out different concepts.”

Kotis mentioned Tessa and Iron Hen as local examples of successful farm to fork concepts, but noted they are operating on a smaller scale than something you might find in Washington, D.C. or Atlanta. With a 150 seat restaurant and 100 seat patio, Farmer’s Realm will allow Chef Pierce to try out recipe concepts and offer a farmer’s market shopping experience. Kotis said the fire pit outside would be removed and replaced with a trellis and several farmer’s market stalls. Immediately inside near the existing beer bar, other market-style shopping options will be available.

While Pierce capitalizes on his vision and existing relationships with regional farmers, Kotis said Weddle will be able to assist with input at Pig Pounder Brewing and an upcoming Darryl’s expansion. Kick Ass Concepts has plans for a Darryl’s Smokehouse and Speak Easy at the former REFS location.

Architects are at work on both the Farmer’s Realm and Darryl’s expansions. Darryl’s Smokehouse is expected in early 2017, while the speak easy could open sooner.

“We continue to invest dollars in Greensboro and build our organization,” Kotis said. “If anything, we just want to have really thrilling concepts that everybody embraces in the area. We hire people and then we create concepts around them in order to be successful.”

Employees at Marshall Free House have been offered positions at other Kotis-owned restaurants. A social media post announced that gift cards to Marshall Free House could be used at other Kick Ass Concept locations or held until Farmer’s Realm opens.