City Weekend gets an exclusive interview with Hollywood celebrity and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg on the opening of American burger chain Wahlburgers. Wahlburgers is run by the Wahlberg family and will be expanding to Asia, starting with its first three locations in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Wuhan. We ask Mark Wahlberg about his burger likes and dislikes and what we should expect from Wahlburgers in China.
City Weekend: Which came first, the punny name or the idea to open a burger restaurant?
Mark Wahlberg: The idea of a burgers restaurant was first. Growing up, we all loved to eat burgers, so it made sense to leverage Paul’s expertise to open a burger concept. Of course, once that was decided, the name Wahlburgers was a natural.
CW: What has been the biggest challenge to get started in Shanghai?
MW: We are early in the process, so I don’t think we’ve yet faced what will be our biggest challenge in opening in Shanghai. It will of course be the start of building our brand in one of the world’s largest markets, and in a city with very high standards for food. So, I’m sure delivering a fantastic experience that does credit to both our brand and Shanghai will be a challenge, but we are up for the challenge.
CW: How much can we expect the menu in China to differ from what Wahlburger serves in the States?
MW: Our partners and we agree that, at its core, what we need to deliver is a Wahlburgers experience built around our core products. Having said that, of course we need to adapt the menu to satisfy local tastes. That balance will be developed in conjunction with David Laris, Wahlburgers Asia Pacific’s very talented concept leader who will team with Paul on adapting Wahlburgers for China.
CW: Wahlburgers serves “a spin on Wahlberg family favorites”. What does your mother think of the food? Did you have to get her approval on the final product?
MW: Alma loves the food! She even made her own contribution to the menu with Alma’s macaroni salad.
CW: Tell us a little bit about it was like eating in the Wahlberg household growing up.
MW: My mom and my dad always made sure that every meal was special. We always ate together.
CW: What do you think makes the ideal burger? I mean, tell us about how you like to stack your burger.
MW: My ideal burger is exactly the way Paul makes the “Our Burger”. That is my favorite.
CW: French fries or onion rings?
MW: French Fries
CW: What about milkshakes? Are you a chocolate, strawberry or vanilla man?
MW: Half Chocolate-Half Vanilla
CW: You’re clearly on a rigorous fitness regimen. How often do you actually get to enjoy a Wahlburger?
MW: Life is about balance. I eat at Wahlburgers often, because everyone is allowed an occasional indulgence. Also, we offer salads and other healthful fare when you’re trying to maintain a diet, so I can fit Wahlburgers into my lifestyle, whatever that involves at the moment.
CW: Have you had a chance to sample any of the local cuisine here? If so, what do you think? Any favorites?
MW: Absolutely. I have tasted the local cuisine in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. I love the local cuisine and think it’s fantastic.
CW: What’s the hardest part of being in business with family?
MW: As brothers, of course we like to pick on each other from time to time, and we all may have slightly different points of view on aspects of the business from time to time. Having said that, we’ve always been united by our love for the business and each other, so it hasn’t been hard working together. Just the opposite—it has given us a reason to come together even more.
CW: Any plans for expansion elsewhere in China?
MW: Our plan is to eventually have restaurants throughout China, but we are looking to our partner Cachet to drive the development schedule, so they are better off answering this question.