Wahlberg brothers celebrate opening of their Foxwoods restaurant
Mashantucket – People were packed two and three deep along the red carpet Thursday afternoon, phone cameras in hand, waiting with a giddy anticipatory energy.
Then Mark, Donnie and Paul Wahlberg strode out from a door next to their new Wahlburgers restaurant at Foxwoods Resort Casino, and the crowd erupted into cheers and whoops. The trio patiently walked down the line, smiling and taking selfies with fans.
Mark and Donnie are, of course, both famous musicians turned actors – Mark’s movie credits include “The Departed” and “The Fighter,” and Donnie stars on CBS’s “Blue Bloods” – and Paul is an esteemed chef. The Wahlbergs, who grew up in Dorchester, Mass., were at Foxwoods on Thursday to celebrate the official opening of the latest Wahlburgers location. It had a soft opening on Aug. 29.
The Wahlberg brothers created Wahlburgers in 2011. That site in Hingham., Mass., was just the first of what are now close to 100 Wahlburgers locations. The restaurants were also the focus of the family’s “Wahlburgers” reality TV show that aired from 2014 to 2019 on A&E.
Wahlburgers is billed as “a casual dining gourmet burger restaurant and bar chain.”
In an interview on the red carpet, Mark spoke about bringing Wahlburgers to Foxwoods.
“Obviously, this is pretty much our backyard, we’re from New England, and also these are the kinds of places we want to be – with captive audiences and a lot of foot traffic. People come here from all over the country and all over the world, and our brand is very recognizable, nearly 100 stores, so they’re getting a taste of home wherever they come from. This is just the ideal location for us,” he said.
When Donnie was asked what he thought made Wahlburgers and Foxwoods a good match, he cracked, “Well, besides the fact that I used to come down here when Foxwoods first opened to play poker?” And how did that go? “Pretty good. Foxwoods had the best poker room on the East Coast, for sure – phenomenal.”
Poker aside, he said it “seems long overdue, honestly, that we’re here. It just seemed in my opinion a match made in heaven and a no brainer, but these things take time, and it happened when it was meant to, and we’re excited that it is. We couldn't be happier.”
Wahlburgers’s menu does have, as its name would suggest, plenty of burgers, including those noted as being the favorite of each of the brothers (Donnie’s choice, for instance, is the BBQ Bacon with a beef burger, white cheddar, bacon, jalapenos, BBQ sauce and avocado spread). But it also boasts a wide range of other offerings, from Parmesan Truffle Tots to Salmon & Street Corn Salad, from shakes to cocktails.
Paul, who has worked in some of the great kitchens in and around Boston, including at The Charles Hotel and the Four Seasons, said they wanted to offer burgers but also dishes for customers who weren’t in the mood for a burger.
”Our job is to make people happy, whatever it takes,” he said.
Mark, who was standing next to Paul, piped up and said, “In a perfect world, if Paul could serve every order in every restaurant, he would.”
As for Paul testing new dishes on his brothers, Mark said, “Paul has proven to be such an outstanding chef that we trust his decisions and what he does. … He runs all the food, the experience. I handle business, and Donnie is the creative guy. It’s Paul’s baby.”
The space at Foxwoods is sleek, with wood and white brick. Huge photos of the three Wahlberg brothers (they are from a family of nine kids) with their beloved late mother adorn the wall. The TVs hanging over the bar were playing the Red Sox game on Thursday – perfect for the Massachusetts owners.
Wahlburgers joins more than 30 other restaurants at Foxwoods. Jason Guyot, the president and CEO of Foxwoods, said the addition of Wahlburgers is part of the redevelopment in the middle of the property where it is located on the Grand Pequot Concourse. The Foxwoods and Wahlburgers teams have been talking for over two years, working on this project. They were trying to find the right location, and the one in the center of the resort seemed ideal.
Guyot said the food at Wahlburgers is a “great selection, a lot different than some of the other other burger options that are out there, and that’s what made us excited not only because of their relationship in this Northeast area but just the quality of what they’re doing.”
Donnie said he and his brothers have learned a lot over the years about what works and doesn’t.
“The restaurant business is not easy by any stretch. While it looks glamorous when we walk into an opening and take a lot of pictures, it’s a long process,” he said. “We’ve had successes, we’ve had challenges, but we’re persevering and doing well. We’re really excited about the future, and more so because of what we’ve learned. We’re not just blindly walking into the future and assuming because we have a famous last name, it’s going to work.”
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