Perfect Recipe
With delectable New Orleans-inspired cuisine, superior service and striking atmosphere, Marsha Brown Restaurant in New Hope has all the ingredients needed to exceed guests’ expectations
by Leigh Stuart

When guests step into a Marsha Brown restaurant, they are assured of a good time and great food. Part of the draw is the restaurateur herself, a vibrant Southern belle bursting with charm and hospitality; but it is also the prime steaks, excellent signature dishes, welcoming atmosphere and seasoned team of chefs, managers and servers that make the dining experience out of this world.

This includes Wendy Kelly, general manager of Marsha Brown Restaurant, a Creole kitchen and lounge in New Hope.

“You’re only as good as your staff,” Kelly says. “You can be a phenomenal leader, have phenomenal executive chefs, but if the staff is not enthusiastic, you’re not going to be successful. We value every member of our team here.”

And quite a team it is. When a guest walks in the door, they are embraced by an entire hospitality troupe. From the valets to the hosts, the service team on the floor to the housemen, and servers front and back of the house are just a few of the employees who will look after a guest. In addition, Kelly notes there is always a manager on the floor to oversee the team. Guests often even get a chance to chat with executive chef Dave Wall, who takes time from the frenetic pace of the kitchen to personally see how they like their meals.

“We support [our staff] with good food, a good working environment, when overall they make it a joy to come to work every day,” Kelly says. “We certainly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

“The staff, as well as the kitchen staff, is really strong,” adds Wall. “They do a heck of a job here. It makes my job a lot easier.”

Kelly notes that under Brown’s leadership, the staffers are encouraged to take ownership of the restaurant and customers’ experiences, which contributes to the team-centered environment. Not one to micromanage, Brown stewards her team in a manner that fosters respect, both among employees and for the restaurant itself.

“The staff respect each other as professionals,” Kelly says. “They know each other’s strengths and play off that very well … to make the guests’ experience the best it can be.”

Jack Shire, a veteran server who has been with Marsha Brown Restaurant for 12 years, says it all goes back to the “golden rule.”

“The way the management treats the staff is very nice,” he says. “They treat you the way they want you to treat the customer, which is the way that I like to be treated.”

Shire adds that while each staff member has unique talents to bring to the table, there are a few commonalities. “I think the fact that everyone has in common is that we all want to be here,” he says. “Everyone has their own thing, but we stick together and work as a team; that’s very rare.”

Karen Brodie, a bartender who has also been with the restaurant for 12 years, says, “It really is like a family.”

And, while top-tier service and teamwork shine throughout Marsha Brown Restaurant, the cuisine is the star of the show. As Kelly says, “The food ties everything together.”

“You don’t see much Creole influence in restaurants in the area,” she adds. “We have the best of the best proteins, fresh fish are brought in daily, and all dishes are made to order.”

Kelly jokes that while many customers request recipes for Marsha Brown’s signature dishes, they are closely guarded secrets. The recipes for most of the Creole menu favorites, in fact, have been passed down through Brown’s own family. The jambalaya, gumbo ya ya, etouffee, and the house favorite Eggplant Ophelia—a rich medley of shrimp and crabmeat topped with grilled eggplant and adorned with Creole butter sauce—are all the products of generations. Wall says he is particularly fond of the “phenomenal flavor” of Brown’s signature crawfish etouffee.

All of the restaurant’s success wouldn’t be possible, of course, without Brown’s leadership and business savvy.

“She is a very smart businesswoman,” Brodie asserts. “She built this, she owns three Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses, but she has managed to keep that really warm, down-to-earth feeling. She knows all the staff by name, and I enjoy working for her because she is really a nice person.”

“If I had a choice of five people to sit down to dinner with, I would want her at my table,” Kelly says. “She’s just one of those personalities; even if we make a mistake, she never makes us feel less. … She gives the entire staff a feeling of ownership and validation and encourages them to make their own decisions.”

When asked what is special about working at a Marsha Brown restaurant, it is no surprise that staff members unanimously reply that it is Marsha Brown herself.

“When I met Marsha, I’d never met an owner as kind as her, as giving as her,” Wall says.

Whereas in many places of employment a visit from the boss is a nerve-racking occasion, at Marsha Brown Restaurant, it’s a cause for celebration.

“We actually enjoy when she comes in,” Kelly says. “She promotes a positive work environment and encourages the staff to respect one another. That’s where everything stems from.”

As Brodie says, “You’ll know when she’s been [in the restaurant] because everybody’s got a smile.”

Most importantly, Brown and the staff treat guests, and one another, like family.

“While any family has its moments—because this is a family—we all check in on each other,” Kelly says. “We’re aware of each other’s outside lives and we care; we’re concerned. The staff makes my job, makes everyone’s jobs, easy by being the backbone of the restaurant. I wouldn’t want to do this without every single one of them.”

Marsha Brown Restaurant
15 S. Main Street
New Hope, PA 18938

Photograph by Kim Billingsley