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Life & Work with Marco Hernandez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marco Hernandez. Them and their team share their story with us below:

Raised in Mexico City and trained in top kitchens around the world Marco holds a degree in culinary arts from the Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon France, as well as a Sommelier degree from the Université Du Vin in Suze-la-Rousse France.

With extensive international experience in his native Mexico as well as France, Italy, Spain and USA, chef Marco brings deep knowledge of operations and execution in Michelin starred restaurants. Marco was part of the team to win 3 Michelin Stars in Massimiliano Alajmo’s Ristorante Le Calandre in Rubano.

Not only a culinary force in the kitchen, as a top-level sommelier Mr. Gonzalez can lead the front of house beverage program and cellar development. Marco lectures and writes for several leading publications including Sabor e Arte Magazine and the Universidad del Caribe in Cancun, Mexico.

As the principle in the development of several of his own concepts Chef Marco has also lead project management, concept development, budgeting, training, and all aspects of start-ups and restaurant ‘rescue’. A long track record of fixing operations include The Modern hotel in Honolulu, The Boxer hotel in Boston, The Plaza hotel in El Paso, Jovanina in Denver, Squirrel Creek lodge in Littleton, The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Rustique Bistro and Benedict XVII Aspen and Ze Concepts Austin, among others.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
David Khan and I met a few years ago in a food hall in Denver called Avanti, where I opened a Mediterranean food concept called Bixo. We had a good connection and we kept in touch. Every time I was back in Austin visiting family, we’d touch base and meet briefly. I’d been quite happy in Colorado working as a freelance consultant for hotels and restaurants across the US. I was traveling a lot and could not love my life more but I felt I needed to grow roots close to family after my first baby was born so David offered me a deal I could not refuse.

We shook hands on what would be a “three food and beverage outlet” deal. A very successful breakfast pop-up that I had opened in Aspen for ski season the previous year called Benedict XVII would be the headliner in one of his properties with a small take-out panini shop next to it (both scheduled to open on 2022) and Ze Crepes. A small crepe cafe a block and a half from the other two concepts.

Ze Crepes was supposed to be a breeze given such a healthy business relationship and the amazing location. The building alone hosts 800 people in office spaces. From the start David made things very simple and timely delivered everything we had put on paper. He is a successful businessman mainly focused on commercial real estate so he understands very well how to be patient and nurture a growing business the right way.

The location just doesn’t get much better than Congress and 6th. We established a good relationship from the beginning and we got to work. By March 2020, we were ready to open. We had our soft opening on Friday 13th, 2020. The place was packed with tenants alone. We didn’t even make noise outside the building and we were packed! Things didn’t go smoothly. We were just not expecting such a large turnout but we got through it. We closed shop for the weekend and were up and running for our first official day on Monday 16th.

That first day was strange. We had a slow day because everyone was panicking exiting the building with computers in hand, chairs, monitors, tv’s, office supplies. Covid 19 was lurking around the corner and everyone was flipping out. On Tuesday, we made the tough decision to shut it down. We were only open for one day before having to shut down for what we thought would be a few weeks or a couple of months. In the end, it turned out to be a year. Close to $6K in inventory were lost, the training hours, the staff, everything was a loss and we would have to start all over again.

We put everything on hold and painfully rode the storm out and got back to work a year later. We officially and quietly reopened Ze Crepes on April 6, 2021 but things were different now. There were no longer 800 tenants in the building, there were five (not kidding). Streets were empty and it seemed like we were in some kind of horror movie. Old broken makeshift tent hubs lined the streets in a very dirty downtown and just a few people wandered in the streets. Business was bad. We had a few days that our sales would not even hit triple digits. It was just my sous chef Levi and myself working the line for days. We even started opening on weekends and worked without days off just to get some extra revenue from passing tourists so we could make ends meet.

Very slowly and progressively things have gotten better. More tenants are moving back to the building. We have a steady flow of regulars, catering is starting to gain popularity and tourists have been a huge part of us still being in business.

That year off helped us turn a simple crepe cafe into a hidden gem. It was just supposed to be a simple grab and go with basic crepes. Today, it’s a full-blown cozy little cafe. We purchased furniture, which was a real challenge sourcing after Covid. We also got very creative and started making crepes we’ve never seen anyone make before. We sourced great products and used techniques that I’ve used throughout my career in fine dining and put it in a crepe. We approached every crepe as if it was a fine dining dish. Every ingredient was minutiously selected and repeatedly tested and tweaked until the crepe was perfect to our standards. The savory the sweets and even the breakfast crepes went through a lengthy testing process. We even make our own coffee blend.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across our starting menu. The one from March 2020 and I was quite surprised and very proud to see what we’ve accomplished today. It’s just a completely different identity and I love it! Those painful and slow months of constant product testing and new ideas shaped us into what we are today. It paved the way to delivering a product we are all very proud of. A product that is UNIQUE and the only place to get it is tucked in a beautiful lobby of the Scarbrough building.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I trained with some of the best chefs one can find. I had the opportunity to work with Massimiliano Alajmo in the three Michelin star Le Calandre back in 2002. I also got some great mentorship from great chefs in France and Spain so I had a very broad spectrum of creative minds and ideas in my head by the time I came back home. I started using the techniques that I learned until I found my very own culinary identity. It’s completely creative cooking with no walls nor boundaries but most importantly it’s good honest food with always a nuance or accent from my Mexican heritage. That’s my very unique style that makes me who I am as a chef.

The thing I’m most proud of was what can only be considered as a suicide mission in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was hired as a consultant by the Modern Hotel to transition from a departing Morimoto restaurant to a new concept that could meet the same standards of the Iron chef’s restaurant and we only had six weeks to open it.

Six weeks later and for peak season (Christmas), with the extraordinary team and the amazing executive chefs of the hotel, we had achieved opening one of the most amazing restaurants in the island. We conceptualized it from top to bottom and executed a Hawaiian ingredient pacific rim inspired menu beautifully and even hosted white house staff for the friends and family night. A year later, it was nominated runner-up best new restaurant by the Hawaiian Chamber of tourism.

Where we are in life is often partly because of others. Who/what else deserves credit for how your story turned out?
My mom and my grandfather deserve all the credit. They are the ones that supported me throughout my career and my mom currently helps out at Ze Crepes during the weekends. Every single one of my chef mentors, my business mentors and my teammates and staff have had positive input in my business and culinary evolution and I’m thankful for all of them.

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