Q&A with Starfish & Coffee – Tony Marks Interview
We meet Tony Marks, owner of Starfish & Coffee on Egremont Place right by Queens Park. The venue opened in July 2017 and since then Starfish & Coffee have come 1st and 2nd in the Brighton Restaurant Awards ‘Best Brunch’ category as well as also winning the ‘Cafe Culture Award‘ 2019 and Brighton Food & Drink Awards ‘Best Cafe’ 2018. Brunch is his favourite meal of the week, so when he decided to open the cafe it was his only consideration and that’s why their strap-line and hashtag is #brunchlikeaboss.
Best thing about running your own business?
I love having my own team. Being able to choose the people I get to work with every day is great. Having a vision that I’ve been able to see through fills me with pride too.
Why is your formula so popular?
I live just a 5-minute walk from Starfish & Coffee and have seen so many businesses in our building come and go over the years, and could see some mistakes they made.
I wanted to open a place that Queens Park & Hanover would be proud of.
During the week I reckon 90% of our customers live or work within a 5-minute walk, so we have to be good enough that those people want to keep coming back. There’s just not enough footfall on our road to let our standards slip and hope that we pick up enough passing trade. The formula is simple enough though, it’s a classic, well presented, brunch menu using quality local produce, with excellent coffee, in an inviting space with friendly service.
What did you want to do when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a radio presenter, which I was lucky enough to achieve.
My career in radio included a decade long stint here in Brighton on Juice 107.2. During that time I spent 7 years presenting the evening show where I was given complete freedom to play whatever I wanted, which was a dream come true. When I opened the cafe The Argus called me an“entrepreneurial broadcaster”, so I want that on my gravestone now! My other dream was to be a professional footballer but was held back on account of being useless. I did, however, through presenting the sports show on JuiceFM, spend four years as a corporate lounge host at The Amex for Brighton & Hove Albion and loved being on the inside of a football club.
Where else has your career taken you?
When I was at school radio seemed like a pipe dream, so I went to college instead and trained in Catering & Hospitality Studies for 3 years and then moved to London at 19 years old to work at The Savoy Hotel. I strayed away from the industry when I went traveling at 21 and it wasn’t until redundancy temporarily ended the 15-year radio career that I decided to get back into hospitality.
Your influences or mentor?
My dad has owned various catering businesses over the years so he’s always encouraged me to work for myself and is a fountain of great advice and support. Also Dan Cook who used to own Joe’s Cafe is one of my best friends and has been a huge help. He was a teacher before he opened Joe’s, so I thought if he can make a success of it, why can’t I.
That triggered my competitive streak and inspired me to be good enough to win it the following year, which I did!
Starfish and Coffee is a consistent winner at the Brighton Restaurant Awards. How did this feel and why do you think your customers love you so much?
Queens Park & Hanover is a really supportive neighborhood and if you do something well they’ll get right behind you. Because most of our customers live locally there’s a real community feel and we love getting to know everyone which also breeds loyalty.
Some days I look around and can name at least one person on almost every table.
I think it’s hard to achieve that in high footfall areas where there are lots of food options.
Tell us about your menu?
We serve full breakfasts, potato hashes, pancakes, avocado toast and Benedicts, plus regular specials, cakes and pastries, etc. I think we’ve got a good mix of indulgent and healthy dishes. Everything has a vegetarian and/or vegan option and we try and keep our carbon footprint as low as possible by using local eggs, butcher, baker and dairy, etc. Likewise, our coffee is roasted by Coffee At 33 and we sell Hoogly Tea. We’re fully licensed and serve loads of Bloody Marys, Prosecco & Mimosas at the weekend too.