Gavin Kaysen is busy putting the finishing touches on his highly anticipated restaurant, Mara, set to open June 1 at the Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Minneapolis. Foodies rejoice: The wait is almost over, with reservations opening today. Ahead of the debut, Kaysen gave us a sneak peek of Mara, discussing what drove his inspiration, what elements he’s most excited about and more.
Mara is nearly here! What elements of this eatery are you most excited about?
There is so much to be excited about! The space itself is stunning and something I am really excited to see filled with guests. We have worked for more than three years on this space, so to see it come to life more and more each day is incredible. I’m also proud of the growth opportunities for some members of my team, a few of whom have been with me for the past five years. This opening gives them some space to take on new challenges and further their careers.
Why did you decide to focus on Mediterranean fare?
The conversations about this opening started with United Properties and Four Seasons three years ago, and my first instinct was to use the Mediterranean as the inspiration. I spent years living and cooking in Europe, and in my free time, I’d travel to experience the cuisine and culture. There are 22 countries in the Mediterranean region! I felt that we could build the restaurant and cafe around the three pillars that come to mind when I think of that area: the land, the sea and the craftsmanship. The tradition of dining in the region is all about the experience you share with others, generosity and taking a moment to enjoy life. I hope to capture the essence of that with Mara and Socca Café.
For the beverage program, you’ve tapped sommelier Paul Hennessy and Adam Witherspoon, who will lead the Cocktail Bar at Mara. What can guests expect from that side of the house?
Adam Witherspoon, who comes to us from 3leche, will lead the beverage program in collaboration with Paul Hennessy, formerly of the Bachelor Farmer. Their goal is to equip and instill the staff at Mara with the tools and knowledge to create intuitive climates of hospitality that are tailored to the individual guest. Whether that’s with a bottle of wine to share, a few different cocktails or a proxy (non-alcoholic) cocktail, they can provide something familiar or help guests explore new territory. They’re similarly inspired by the exceptional craftsmanship and technique that are synonymous with Mediterranean cuisine. Many of the offerings they’ve curated are selected from near and far for the work the makers do to create excellent products, often sustainably or with a unique point of view.
You’ve opened several restaurants, including three here in the Twin Cities. What’s this final stage like?
There is always a lot going on in the final steps, from training the teams to retesting all of the food with the new equipment and staff to monitoring the punch list items that need to be organized, worked through and finalized. We’re also mindful of the communication to our guests, which includes managing all things social media and beyond. I am grateful to have an incredible team of people who I get to work with every day. From the crew at Four Seasons to my team here at Soigné, they are the best in class.
What’s the most satisfying part of opening a restaurant?
I think it’s being able to see the faces and the joy from people in the dining room and bar that you have been thinking about while creating the space. It’s also about seeing a team of people coming together in a new environment, working hard to create the magical moments of hospitality. It is about seeing a vision through and knowing that what we created will be a memory for us and for so many other people. We hope this is a place for people to gather during momentous times in their lives, and a place where they can celebrate and create memories.
What’s the most challenging part?
Accepting we cannot control every outcome! It’s important to remember that when you open a restaurant and expose yourself to others. We know there will be criticism. That is OK; it is part of what we sign up for. Remembering not to take that personally and trying not to control it is important.
Will you get some downtime this summer to relax and reflect on this latest accomplishment?
I don’t think so; to be honest, downtime is not really my style. But I will definitely spend time in reflection through my journals to process this year. In these moments, I try to take time to think about what it took to get here and where we want it to go next. I will spend time looking into my future with it.