Mark Kuller died today. We knew he would but what a loss. Mark was the creator/owner of Proof, Estadio, and Doi Moi, three wonderful Washington restaurants.
He was a giant of a man, six feet six. When he hugged me my head met his chest. But height was not the only way in which he was big.
He was a man of prodigious appetites – wine, food, hospitality, and people. His laugh was big. So was his confidence. So was his mind.
It seems so ironic, cruel, that a man who loved life so much should die at 62, particularly as his marriage was only four years old and his new son less than a year.
Mark began coming to The BreadLine, my restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, just after it opened in 1997. With enthusiasm and joy he adopted The BreadLine and came for lunch three times a week, often even more than that.
I knew him as a bon vivant, a man who loved women and cars with a loud laugh and a lot of friends. That was all I then knew.
Mark decided to open a restaurant – a wine restaurant, natural for an entrepreneurial man, a risk-taker who loved food so much and had a 6,000 bottle wine collection. He thought he could continue law practice and be a restaurateur on the side, but he told me as he plunged into the detail of opening Proof that he couldn’t do both – and the restaurant was so much fun.
Proof was a great success and in 2005, he and I started talking about jointly opening a breakfast restaurant and bakery and went to look at sites where that might work. But I was uncertain and Mark had other passions. He moved on to open Estadio, his Spanish restaurant on 14th Street. Then he then took space in a building just being constructed and began thinking about a restaurant with Southeast Asian food.
It was there in late August last year, during the trials, the “friends and family” dinners that precede a restaurant opening, that Mark sat down at my table and said, “I’ve just been diagnosed with stage four liver and pancreatic cancer.”
He became a cancer expert over the next weeks, guiding his treatment and his hopes. This most optimistic of men was clear and hardheaded about what would happen. Determined to leave all in good order, he made arrangement for his business and other matters.
At the same time, as optimism kept creeping back, he set goals: At first they were ones for a few years: I want to stay alive so that my children remember me. They then became more short-term: I want to stay alive until the babies are born. I want to stay alive for (older son) Max’s wedding.
Mark was alive when the babies were born. But finally he had exhausted all the treatments available. It is really sad that he won’t be there for Max’s wedding. It is terribly sad that so joyous a man lost – inevitably – to the “emperor of all maladies.”