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Mon Valley's Moses puts mark on restaurant business

| Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009

Mark A. Moses likes to tell the story of how he got started in the restaurant business as a young boy in Donora.

"When I was tall enough to stand on a bar stool and pour a beer at my dad's bar at the Irondale Hotel," Moses said. "That's when I got hooked. I enjoyed being there and thought I might like to do that somewhere in the future."

Today, nearly 50 years later, Moses, 54, continues to see his dream come true as a joint venture partner with Outback Steakhouse in Colorado. He has responsibility for three Outback venues in Colorado Springs and seven in the Denver metropolitan area.

"I often think about those days at the Irondale," Moses said of the popular landmark owned and operated for many years by his late father, John Moses. "We were living in the hotel and we were very fortunate to have a great group of boarders including William "Bull" McCleary, Andy Remora and Bill Koskoski to name a few; my uncles, Joe Marynchak, Gus Jurik and Walter Kelly, and my dad's best friends, Francis "Gooch" Rongaus and Moach Mongelluzzo, to help teach me the value of having fun, taking care of your friends and the importance of integrity."

Moses also helped his mother, now Beverly Ford of Carmel, Calif., and Koskoski cook in the Irondale kitchen.

"Who could forget stuffing and cooking hundreds of deviled crabs every Friday?" he said. "The customers loved them."

He also assisted his father and his aunt Florence Neil every Wednesday cooking for the Lions Club and other community organizations that met at the Irondale.

"Aunt Florence made the best pies in town," Moses said. "My favorite was her lemon meringue pie with the delicious filling and the topping piled real high."

Moses also recalled that he "inherited" the job of cleaning the bar when his cousins, Tommy Kelly and Bobby Neil, "got too old to do it." He also worked for Gus and Frita Costas in their catering business for many years.

While he learned about the restaurant business from his father, Moses also gained a far more important lesson in life from the elder Moses.

"My dad had a huge influence on my values of giving for the sake of giving," Moses said. "I watched him take care of many of our boarders at the Irondale for many years, making sure they were fed and housed, received medical attention, and were buried with dignity when they passed. When the Irondale closed, dad rented a boarding house around the block from the hotel and continued to care for and about his boarders.

"I watched him take food to them, take them to doctors' appointments, and make sure they had dignity in their lives for many years. Dad helped a lot of people in the Valley without ever asking for or accepting recognition. He did it because it was the right thing to do. His behavior had a major influence on all of the Moses kids and helped shape our values as we grew up."

Those experiences set the foundation for Moses' future.

"They were valuable in terms of an education that went far beyond the traditional classroom and textbook setting," he said.

Moses made a firm decision to enter the restaurant management profession as he was about to graduate from Grove City College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1977.

"I was standing in line to sign up for job interviews when it dawned on me that I did not want to be a salesman, I wanted to work in the (restaurant) industry," he said. "At that time, however, you had to have a 4.0 GPA and know someone to get a decent job. I applied to several hotel-restaurant management schools and was accepted to four of the best schools in the country at the time, including Cornell and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Takes Dad's advice

"When I sat down with my dad and told him I wanted to be a chef, he gave me this advice: 'Son, if you want to spend the rest of your life in the kitchen cooking, be a chef. If you want to own a restaurant, go to hotel-restaurant school, get your degree and visit the kitchen whenever you want to.'

"So I loaded the car and headed to Las Vegas and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in hotel-restaurant management. I guess it's like the old saying, 'Father Knows Best.'"

Moses was working for Longhorn Steakhouse and traveling extensively when he received the offer that took him to Colorado.

"My children were at the age that they needed their father to be home instead of on the road opening new restaurants," he said. "I had been talking to a few good friends who were in on the ground floor of the Outback Steakhouse over a 10-year period about joining the Outback team, but I always had other opportunities to pursue.

"I received a call from one of my friends in 1999 and he said, 'We have an Outback Steakhouse in Aurora, Colo., that needs a proprietor. If you say no this time, I am never going to call you again.' It just happened to be perfect timing as my contract with Longhorn was up.

"I accepted the Outback offer and it afforded me the opportunity to manage one restaurant and watch my kids grow up. It turned out to be one of the best moves of my career."

Moses and his wife, the former Amy Beth Somerson of Cherry Hills, N.J., have been married 21 years.

"We met when I was a general manager for Bennegan's Tavern in Mount Laurel, N.J., and she was general manager of The Limited clothing store in Cherry Hills," Moses said. "She was a good friend of a member of my staff who introduced us."

They were married in New Orleans on Oct. 8, 1988, and are the parents of two children -- Brittany Nicole, a freshman at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where she is studying to become an elementary school teacher, and Jonathan Daniel, a senior at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora.

Moses, who was born April 8, 1955 in West Hollywood, Calif., and arrived in Donora at age 2 when his parents returned there, is the oldest of four siblings.

His brother Jeff is the founder and owner of Night That Never Ends Productions, a festival promotions company, and its parent company, MBF Co., a distributor and importer/exporter of beer, soda and wine throughout the world, based in Monterey, Calif., and their brother, Jay Moses, is CEO of a multimedia company in New York City.

Their sister, Kim Moses, and her husband, Ian Sander, are executive producers of the hit television show, Ghost Whisperer.

Moses attended Bethany College in West Virginia for one year before transferring to Grove City. He played basketball as a freshman. He also lettered running the mile with the Bisons track team.

Although he has lived in major cities across the United States and traveled to others in a 31-year career in food service and restaurant management, Moses will never forget his roots.

"Growing up in a small town allowed us to develop love and respect for family, friends and neighbors," he said. "It allowed us to develop a sense of community that has been lost in our modern society.

"Kids today have their time scheduled every minute of the day because parents are afraid to take their eyes off their children. I understand that we live in a totally different society and cultural atmosphere, but too many kids today are raised by television and computers.

"In contrast, we grew up in a magical world that we were free to roam, as long as you didn't go past the Spanish Club, the Donora Bridge, Second Street extension or Highland Terrace. We learned to respect our elders, honesty, integrity, self reliance, work ethics, conflict resolution and to say 'please' and 'thank you.' You can't put a price tag on that kind of education."

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