BILLINGS — If there’s one word you can use to describe The Marble Table restaurant experience, it’s family.
"When you come in the door, they make a point of Jen (Marble) taking you to the table," said Pari Kemmick, who dined at the Billings restaurant on Wednesday night. "I don't think I’ve ever seen that from an owner."
"When you come in to our restaurant, we want you to feel like you’re family," Jen said. "This is our table. This is our home."
With four kids, co-owners Jason and Jen Marble already have a big family in the traditional sense, but it’s 10 times bigger when they come to work.
"I half-jokingly say we have 40 children," Jason laughed, "between our staff and our actual kids."
The concept seems to be working. Last month, The Marble Table was named one of 30 semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s best new restaurant in the country award. It’s like the Oscars for food. But someone else has to nominate you for this list.
"We don’t know who did it. No idea," they said.
It’s tough narrowing it down, because superlatives seem to come out of everyone’s mouth.
"There is a specialness about everything here," said Caitlin Campbell, dining with Kemmick.
Parker Ford and Julie Kraft were there for the first time. "That pork chop was as good as it gets," Ford said.
The restaurant has been the Marble's dream for a long time. Chef Jason ran a number of kitchens around the city - at Uberbrew, Last Chance Cider Mill, Enzo - but the couple still never expected to have their own so early.
"He told me one day, ‘Hey, Lilac’s for sale. I think maybe we should buy it,'" Jen said of the couple's first conversation about the space. "I said, 'Yeah, ok," and laughed."
"We didn’t think we’d ever get a loan or be able to afford it," Jason added, "but it all fell into place, and eventually we got to a point where we couldn’t say no."
They’ve had a run of good fortune ever since, one they hope continues March 16 as they try to become the first James Beard finalist in Billings history. But in true fashion, they’re not just in it for themselves.
"I’d rather be hiding in a corner," Jason smiled.
"There’s a lot of restaurants in this town, in this area, that are phenomenal," Jen added. "By us getting a semifinalist nod, if we can bring people into these places that we love, that helps everybody."
After all, it's just one big family.