Mike was born and raised in Wooster, Ohio. Growing up with a French mother who loved to cook hearty, homestyle food for her family, Mike learned the value of creating connection through food at an early age.
Mike's first job was picking strawberries at Moreland Fruit Farm in Wooster, which kicked off his journey in the food industry. He later worked his way up at a variety of Wooster restaurants, starting as a dishwasher and server, and eventually landing his first cooking job at The Miami Italian Restaurant, making pizza and pasta.
In 1997, Mike began studying business at Kent State University. While in school, he was working full-time at Ray's Place in Kent. After realizing he greatly preferred being in the restaurant to being in class, he dropped out of Kent State and returned home to Wooster. He took a job as a cook at the Wooster Inn working for then-Inn Keeper Andrea Lazare. After recognizing Mike's passion for cooking and desire to further his culinary education, Andrea introduced him to Chef Parker Bosley, known as the "godfather of the Cleveland local food movement." Parker owned a cooking school and was in the process of reopening the highly acclaimed 'Parker's Restaurant and Bistro Bar' in Cleveland which had recently undergone renovations. It was at that restaurant that Parker offered Mike a job as a prep cook. Within six months of working as a prep cook at Parker's, Mike was promoted to Sous Chef, and was eventually encouraged by his boss and mentor, Chef Bosley, to travel for a culinary internship.
Chef Parker Bosley and Mike Mariola in the kitchen of Parker's Restaurant & Bistro Bar
Bonjour la France!
Mike's first culinary internship brought him to Paris, France, where he worked under esteemed French Chef Christian Constant at Le Violon d’Ingres. Much to his surprise and dismay, his first day he was directed to the dish tank where he spent all day washing dishes. Remembering what Chef Bosley taught him in his early days - "how you do one thing is how you do all things" - Mike worked diligently his first week washing dishes until he earned his spot on the line working alongside some of the best chefs in Paris. After three months working in Paris, he sat down with Chef Constant to review his time there and expressed to the Chef that it was certainly the amazing food that kept people flocking to his restaurant. Chef Constant certainly did create delicious and unique dishes, but he explained to Mike that while the food they make will bring people in from all over the world, without exceptional service, none of them will return. That proved to be a pivotal moment for Mike, changing the way he thought about the dining experience and setting the foundation for the expectation of differentiated service he would set for his future restaurants.
All Roads Lead Home
Mike and Emily Mariola at the opening of South Market Bistro in Wooster in 2012
After returning from his Paris internship and completing another in Washington, D.C., Mike met his wife Emily and moved back to Wooster. Mike and Emily opened South Market Bistro, a chef-driven French home style cooking-inspired restaurant in the heart of Wooster. For a unique at-home touch, all the plateware at the Bistro was designed and created by Emily.
Although South Market Bistro has since been sold, Mike's restaurant career has continued to grow. He founded the restaurant group Mike Mariola Restaurants in 2002 which now operates several restaurants in Ohio including The City Square Steakhouse in Wooster which has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Steakhouses in America and The Rail, an award-winning "All-Ohio" burger bar with four locations. Mike Mariola Restaurants also became the first domestic franchisee of Caribou Coffee in 2022 and has plans to open a new concept, Mariola Italian, in Wooster in 2023.
Mike is an active member of the Wooster community, a former Chair of Main Street Wooster, and actively involved with the Ohio Restaurant Association. Mike, Emily, and their four children live on a farm outside Wooster. Emily also owns Flex Yoga, conveniently located across the street from The City Square Steakhouse in downtown Wooster.
To keep up with Mike, follow him on LinkedIn.