Lord of the Dance Club Michael Wright on Going Back to His Food Industry Roots
Over a twenty year career in the Irish hospitality sector, Michael Wright has built a portfolio that includes six award winning bars and restaurants and Ireland’s largest ‘Superclub’, opening eighteen outlets over that time and today employing over 600 staff.
You might find it easy to believe then that when I speak to him he’s in Ibiza, but what’s surprising is that his exact whereabouts on this holy grail for clubbers isn’t poolside at one of the island’s glitzy hotels but far away from the bleary eyed crowd on a rural farm.
On the roof of a farm house to be exact, in an attempt to secure reception Michael explains via a phone line that drops in and out of frequency as we speak.
“I’m in the entertainment industry and I’m in Ibiza but I’m on a farm, something doesn’t quite add up there!”
He explains his remote location is his small farm on the Spanish island where he is currently spending any spare time he has preparing the land to plant avocados, citrus fruit and plum trees.
Not exactly a holiday then, I suggest, “No it’s not really – it’s hot and it’s hard work!” he laughs, “but I enjoy it.”
His recent fascination with farm fresh produce is echoed in the entrepreneur’s latest project, Marqette, a unique food court in Terminal 1, Dublin Airport offering freshly prepared food in a setting that evokes an outdoor food market, that since opening in 2015 has proved to be a game changer in airport dining.
“Marqette is the total focus at the moment. It’s brought me back to my roots in a sense because I started off in the food industry as a kid and was in it right up until my teens and that’s where I really want to be now.”
A member of the famous Wrights of Howth family, which operates a thriving national and international fish and seafood business, Michael JF Wright, to give him his full title, grew up in the food industry.
“I would have spent a lot of time on the pier in Howth waiting for the trawlers to come in, and as a young boy I would have stood at a counter and filleted boxes of fish for hours on end.”
When he left school he headed to New York City and further immersed himself in the industry, spending his formative years working in various bars and restaurants learning the trade and gathering ideas.
Since returning to Ireland in 1995 he has gone on to open Wrights Bloody Stream in Howth, Wrights Anglers Rest in the idyllic Strawberry Beds near Chaplizod, Wrights Café Bar in Swords village, Wrights Findlater Howth, and the Gilbert and Wright chain.
Most notoriously Michael opened The Wright Venue in 2009, an 80,000 square feet nightclub that comprises seven bars and five VIP rooms spread over three floors, listed in the Top 20 in Red Bull’s clubs of the world and voted Best Irish Nightclub for the last 7 years.
While Marqette has only been open two years Michael says his ambition to expand his empire into the realm of airport dining has been building for a long time. “I had tendered on numerous occasions over to try to get into Dublin Airport over the past fifteen years.”
“I could see that there were huge opportunities to do something different, to bring the food standard in airports to a different level.”
What does he think finally caught the attention and imagination of Dublin Airport after all that time? “I think the fact that I wanted to create a market feel and look really interested them, but I think the big thing was that I planned to put a bakery in Dublin Airport.”
“My vision was that if we baked all our products fresh every morning and if all food was prepared on site that we would produce a unique offering within the airport environment.”
Alongside the bakery sits the Rotisserie, offering fresh free range chicken, Irish lamb and beef, and “The Hatch”, a re-purposed vintage Citroen van, is a big draw with its freshly-made omelettes and crêpes.
“It was important to us to have as much as possible on show so that people could see what was happening.”
Catering for health conscious travellers there’s also an extensive salad bar, and fresh fruit or protein pots, juices, salads and sandwiches to take on board.
“The food standard in airports is generally very low, but I think that this was due to restrictions from the airport operators,” explains Michael.
“In many airport kitchens you can’t actually cook, they don’t have gas facilities. Dublin Airport were innovative in allowing a bakery into the airport.”
One of only three airport bakeries in the world, the bakery is part of an expansive kitchen that cost over €3.5 million and has the capacity to cater for 5000 covers a day.
Taking over the what was formerly the Duty Free area at Dublin Airport, the fit out of Marqette was challenging at times Michael says, having to adhere to security restrictions when getting materials in and out and applying for passes for tradesmen.
Now that they are fully operational the challenges of working in an airport environment are felt on a day to day basis.
“Staffing the unit is very difficult because everybody has to get Garda clearance and that can take up to three months to come through.”
Though catering for the huge number of customers that pass through one of the countries busiest thoroughfares is the biggest challenge for the team at Marqette.
The logistics of managing the huge volumes and sourcing of ingredients is a full-time job, one tasked to Executive Chef Peter Brennan, who previously worked with The Radisson Blue St. Helen’s, Mount Juliet Estate, Parknasilla and The Savoy, London.
“We deal with all the local farms in north county Dublin. We’ve built very good relationships with our producers,” he says of the a suppliers list which includes Gubbeen Salami, Toonsbridge Buffalo Mozzarella, Kettyle Beef, and hand-made sausages from O’Mahony Meats.
The effort has been worth it however. Earlier this year Marqette was crowned Airport Food Hall of the Year at the Moodie Davitt Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) Conference & Awards in Toronto, Canada, a global accreditation that holds the highest recognition among international consumers and industry stakeholders.
“After we opened Marqette we started getting emails from pilots from all over the world traveling through Dublin airport, working with Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, and other global airlines, and they were telling us how good Marqette was. That was the first sign that we were changing the future of airport food.”
“Every project we’ve got involved with have won awards for, all our pub and restaurants are award winning, the nightclub has won awards every year since it opened.”
“We enjoy pushing the boundaries and being creative, it’s what drives us.”
Bringing the Marqette brand to the streets of Dublin, development of the concept is underway in St. Andrews Church on Suffolk Street in the city centre, which is planned to open next year.
“It’s an amazing space, and we’ll be developing it to create a real market feel. There will be fifteen to sixteen different outlets on offer. We want to showcase the best of Irish produce in St. Andrews.”
“We are also looking at Manchester airport and various other airports around Europe at the moment. I’d like to think that we’ll be in four to five airports in the next three years.”
With the ambition, experience and passion of Michael Wright behind it, for Marqette the sky’s the limit.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.