Key West is no stranger to marquee celebrities. For decades, American presidents, writers, musicians and actors have sought refuge within the island’s vibrant landscape and iconic culture. But when one of the world’s most recognized A-list actors sets up shop along the city’s Historic Seaport, even an island that prides itself on having immunity to starstruck nostalgia is now buzzing about the arrival of Mark Wahlberg.
To be fair, it’s not just Mark Wahlberg who’s behind the family’s newest restaurant location in Key West, which also marks their 46th Wahlburgers on the globe. Chef Paul Wahlberg is typically credited with ownership of the casual burger and bar restaurant alongside Mark and their notable brother Donnie, who has forged his own celebrity path for over four decades. The brothers also captivated American audiences for 10 seasons with A&E’s hit television series aptly titled “Wahlburgers.”
But it is Mark who is a celebrity among celebrities. He is an international phenomenon, from his early days as a model and hip hop star, to one of the most celebrated actors and respected producers in the industry. Aside from film, he has launched an array of successful business ventures, while earning the endearing reputation as a committed husband, father and philanthropist.
As the Wahlburgers name is drawn into the fabric of Key West dining experiences, the Keys Weekly caught up with Mark to discuss everything from having his nails painted by his daughter to the dawn of a New England Patriots era without Tom Brady.
Why is Key West an important destination for Wahlburgers and how does it fit with the brand’s vision? We’re always looking for locations that align with our key brand pillars — food, family and fun. Key West is the perfect location for bringing a top-notch experience to life for our guests with those key elements in mind.
What should Key West and the Keys know about Wahlburgers and what makes it unique or different from other casual dining locales and bars (and possibly other Wahlburgers locations)? Having the opportunity to open a Wahlburgers at the boardwalk of the world-renowned Historic Key West Seaport is pretty special. We love the relaxed yet vibrant culture of Key West and the opportunity it gave us to play with dishes that have a local flare. We are really looking forward to welcoming everyone through the doors and becoming a part of this community.
What are your personal favorites at the restaurant? What’s a hidden secret? My not-so-secret favorite (because it says so on the menu) is the plant-based Impossible Burger. The burger itself is incredible because it really tastes like beef. And my brother Paul has made it special for Wahlburgers, adding some heat by topping it with chili spiced tomatoes.
Really everything is delicious and add Wahl Sauce to just about anything on the menu and you’ve just taken your meal up a few notches.
How would you describe Wahlburgers today and how has it evolved from you and your brother’s original vision? If you ask Paul, his vision was to have one location. But we saw the potential for something so much bigger. At 46 locations with the opening of Key West, it’s become a bit of a phenomenon. You look at the comments on our social media pages and people all over the world are asking us to bring one to their city or neighborhood. But it’s always incredibly important to us that we connect with that local community and make sure we’re adding value.
As a father, what does the restaurant have to offer to families? Has your family (and brothers’ families) influenced any of the elements of the restaurant? Family has had a huge influence on the restaurant and the menu. Paul has recreated some of the recipes my parents would make for us growing up with a chef-inspired twist. My Mom’s macaroni salad recipe is even on the menu. For us, the three key pillars are food, family and fun — we should always be delivering in those areas. Not to mention, Key West is the ultimate vacation spot for families, and our waterfront patio is an awesome location to make memories with yours.
You have an array of locations, but how unique is the Key West location in relation to the historic significance of the building and waterfront? It’s pretty unique and I think the team there has done an incredible job making sure it fits in with the area. The outdoor bar is a spot you could belly up to and really take in the beauty of Key West while enjoying a delicious cocktail and fish tacos — and that’s unique to this location.
If you could go incognito in Key West, what would your perfect day look like? No doubt I would have to get out on the water. Spending time with friends or family just relaxing and being off the clock.
Do you ever see yourself spending more time in Key West? We know you are a fitness fanatic, but what other Key West-themed activities do you enjoy? (Golf, fishing, boating, etc.) I love to golf and do a lot of it when I’m not working. Definitely need to hit up the course and then spend the afternoon out on the boat.
What current projects can you tell us about right now, whether it be an upcoming film, business project or other ventures? I’m currently filming a movie in Berlin and also launched an apparel line, MUNICIPAL, just a few weeks ago. Always have a few projects in the works.
We have to ask, because Key West has a large contingent of Boston sports fans. What is your prediction for the Patriots in the upcoming season and what word(s) will come to mind when you first see Brady in a Bucs uniform? Oh man, it’s going to be weird to see him in anything but Patriots gear at first, but he gave us New England fans so many incredible years. I wish him the best of luck in this next chapter. We’ll miss him, but I think we are in good hands with Cam coming onto the team, and the talent across the team runs deep. Looking forward to seeing how things play out for them this season.
You are one of the most recognizable figures on the planet, with a career spanning from successful musician to producer to blockbuster actor. However, you are known as one of the most humble guys in the business. With so many monumental accomplishments, what do you want your legacy to be on this planet? At the end of the day, I really want to be remembered as a great father and a great husband. My family is what is most important, and they keep me grounded.
You’ve broken the mold and proven that an A-list celebrity can be a model husband and father. What is the secret to balancing the demands of your career and your family? It’s important to me to carve out time in my week to spend quality time with my family, whether that’s date night with my wife, playing basketball with my boys or even letting my youngest daughter paint my nails (yes, that happened in quarantine).
Do you ever watch your own movies? If so, which one do you go back and watch the most? And what other men and women in the business do you enjoy and respect the most? I can’t say I watch my own movies very often, but “The Fighter” is one I’m personally very proud of. There are so many incredibly talented men and women in the business that I’m a fan of – Octavia Spencer and Peter Berg are excellent, just to name a few!
Do you think we’ll ever see a Wahlberg film based here in Key West? You never know. It’s a beautiful spot and I certainly wouldn’t say no to spending a little extra time down here.
Finally, your career has encompassed several generations and different genres (from your music, an assortment of movies, producing “Entourage” and so on). What is the most cliché character or role that some fan yells at you in an airport or restaurant? Any that make you cringe, or some that you love? I’ve been so blessed to work on so many great projects with a ton of talented people. People love to ask me about ”Boogie Nights,” and they like to repeat lines from Ted — the white trash names scene is a classic.
Bill and Kim Geary knew a visit to the new Wahlburgers restaurant in Key West was a “must-do” as soon as they realized it was scheduled to open in the Southernmost City. Their son Robby, a 9-year-old super-fan from Tampa, who “idolizes Mark Wahlberg,” wanted to share a picture he drew of Wahlberg with the…