Marco Coelho, 48, moved to the United States from Brazil as a foreign exchange student in the mid-1980s.
“My first experience was in Nebraska. I stayed for six weeks, and then I moved to Miami, where I got my start washing dishes. From there I worked my way up. I was a busboy, waiter, food-runner, the whole nine yards,” he says.
There was a brief detour to New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology and jobs in merchandising, but he missed the restaurant business. In the late 1990s, he relocated to Nantucket. In 2006, he opened his first restaurant there, LoLa 41, serving a globe-trotting menu with a heavy sushi focus. In 2017, he expanded to the Seaport. Today, he also operates LoLa 42 and LoLa Burger there, plus LoLa 41 Global Bistro & Sushi Bar in Palm Beach, Fla.
“When I first opened LoLa in the Seaport, there weren’t that many restaurants. I was in the right place at the right time,” he says.
What’s the first restaurant you remember visiting in Boston?
Mistral, in the late 1990s, when I first moved to New England. I moved from Palm Beach, Florida. I originally come from Brazil. It was the first time I ever had foie gras!
What’s one thing you’d like to change about the restaurant industry here?
Whoa. That’s a challenging question. Labor shortage is one of those things, for sure. It’s very hard to find talented people in the city of Boston, with the casino opening. And it became very hard for people to manage their lives in this business. More and more, people are taking different directions. … It’s hard to balance life and work when you work in the restaurant business. It’s a tough life in general.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you started working in Boston?
The labor pool. It’s too hard to find people, and there are so many restaurants open. The boom has [changed] competition quite a bit.
What restaurants do you visit when you’re not working?
I work all the time, but when I’m not working, I go to Peach Farm. I get the king crab dinner, after work, with my chefs and some of my managers, when we have the time to do it.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think you might work in restaurants someday?
Growing up watching my grandmother do her farm-to-table cooking is how I got this passion. I was the youngest kid in the family, and I hung out with my grandmother, mom, and aunt. I come from a German and Portuguese family, with a lot of seafood, and we ate a lot of chicken. We had a farm, growing up, and we raised everything. I grew up in a fishing village in the south of Brazil, with so much fresh fish. In Brazil, lunchtime is the big meal — it’s the most important meal of the day.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?
Wow, wow, wow. It was a trip to Tahoe with my nephew and niece. We were staying in a resort out there, and I had a bug on my coffee pot. When I complained about it, the server was a jerk. He was not a pleasant person about it! We still talk about it, and it happened in the early ‘90s.
How could the Boston food scene improve?
You know, the cost of opening the restaurants — high rent. Definitely those are things that could improve. All the mom-and-pop restaurants are closing, and rent is outrageous. To maintain a restaurant in the city of Boston, cash flow can be very tough.
Describe your customers in three words.
Discerning, conservative, and loyal. We have such a loyal clientele. I see my customers three or four times per week.
What’s the most overdone food or drink trend right now?
Lobster tails on my Bloody Mary. It’s really, really overdone. I see it way too much. Wow. In the restaurant world, there are really no boundaries, correct? But every time I see it, why? It’s supposed to be a cocktail, not a meal.
What are you reading?
Let me tell you: I don’t read much. I’ve been reading construction codes. That’s my main thing. I do a lot of audiobooks, and Paulo Coelho is my go-to.
What’s one food you never want to eat again?
Mushrooms! I can definitely do white truffles, but I’m a little allergic. Mushrooms don’t sit well with me.
How’s your commute?
I have a crazy commute. I live part-time in Nantucket, part-time in Boston, and part-time in Florida. In the Seaport, I walk two blocks. When I’m in Nantucket, I take a boat and drive. And in Florida, it’s definitely JetBlue to Boston. It’s the easiest way, a nonstop flight.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing?
For my taste? I’m Brazilian, so a good Argentinian steakhouse.
What Boston restaurant do you miss the most?
Well, on Nantucket, I miss so many of them: Cioppino’s on Broad Street for seafood — just a local restaurant that had been there a long time. It closed in the early 2000s.
Who has been your most memorable customer?
Wow. I’ve had so many. LoLa does cater to celebrities, but the ones who are most memorable are the kids of my loyal clientele. They’re all young professionals with young families now. I love to see them come around.
If you were to eat your last meal in Boston, where would you go?
If I’m eating my last meal, I’m at Fogo de Chao in the Back Bay, having an amazing Brazilian steakhouse experience. Are you familiar with a Brazilian steakhouse? There’s so much to order. They bring everything to your table. The selection of meat is what gets me. It has the best selection of meat in the city, and you don’t have to pick one. You can try 15 different steaks on a menu! And Brazilian-style potato salad.