If you had told Paul Wahlberg in 1988 that his youngest brother Mark would one day become a big movie star earning $20 million per picture and worth an estimated $350 million, he would have said you were crazy.
If you had also told Paul at the time that he and his brothers Mark and Donnie would one day own a restaurant chain with 60 locations in the US, Canada, Europe and, as of December, Australia, his reaction would have been the same.
But, unbelievably, it has all become reality.
Hollywood star Mark Wahlberg and his brothers – Paul and Donnie – will open their first Wahlburgers in Australia from December (pictured with their late mother Alma Wahlberg)
Paul (pictured) and his brothers Mark and Donnie now own restaurant chain Wahlburgers with 60 locations in the US, Canada, Europe and, as of December, Australia
What is Wahlburgers?
Wahlburgers is a casual restaurant and bar founded by the Wahlberg brothers.
Famous for its burgers, salads, sandwiches, filled tubs and frothy shakes, the American burger chain currently has 60 locations in the US, Canada, Europe and, as of December, Australia.
The company has invested $50 million over the next five years to open 20 restaurants in Australia and New Zealand, with plans to hire more than 500 employees.
In 1988, 16-year-old Mark Wahlberg was a cocaine-using, marijuana-peddling wild child who had just spent 45 days in an adult prison for a violent indiscriminate assault on a Vietnamese immigrant on the streets of Boston.
At the same time, Paul, then 24, was doing the dishes for a catering company, and Donnie, 18, was trying to get a record label interested in the boy band he formed with friends and called New Kids on the Block after a rap song he had written.
Coming from a broken family of nine children living in a three-bedroom apartment, the future for the Wahlbergs wasn’t exactly bright. When Mark was locked up in the rat-infested Deer Island House of Correction after being charged with attempted murder and pleading guilty to a lower charge of criminal contempt, he seemed to be heading down a one-way street.
As he told a reporter in 2001, “As soon as I started that criminal life, there was always a voice in my head telling me I was going to end up in jail. Three of my brothers had made time. My sister went to jail so many times I lost count.’
It was that brief but terrifying stint in adult prison that saw Mark make a conscious decision to change his life. With Donnie’s help, he started his own successful band, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, which led to a move into modeling, acting and movie stars.
Paul said he still finds it hard to believe that the two brothers he once shared a small bedroom with — along with three other brothers — are now household names.
The Wahlberg brothers open their first Wahlburgers restaurant in Australia, just a stone’s throw from the Sydney Opera House (picture of the Sydney location)
“We went through ups and downs like all families do,” Paul said this week. “Things happen that you have to deal with. I didn’t know everything Mark was up to. Sometimes you hear something, sometimes you don’t.
“All I know is that he turned his life around, worked hard, succeeded and I couldn’t be prouder.”
The same goes for Donnie, who translated the worldwide success of New Kids on the Block into a lucrative career as a television actor, starring in series such as Blue Bloods and Band of Brothers.
Paul still finds it hard to believe that the two brothers with whom he once shared a tiny bedroom – along with three other brothers – are now household names.
“There was no way you could have predicted what they’ve become,” he says.
“How many people in Hollywood get off that bus and say they’re going to be a star? How many people sing in a small club and dream of becoming part of the biggest band in the world?
‘Thousands? Millions? And how many make it? Not much, but my two brothers do. I think I always felt there was something special, but maybe everyone thinks that about their little brothers.’
The first Australian outlet opens opposite the Sydney Opera House in December, serving the same ‘simple comfort food’ as Paul calls it
Paul entered the world of food and hospitality at the age of 16 when he started working in the kitchen of a catering company that hosted up to 20 events every weekend
One thing Paul knew for sure was that the times when all the Wahlberg kids, plus their parents when they were still together — and a grandmother who lived with them — gathered for Sunday lunch, it was no place for the faint of heart.
‘If I had to describe those lunches in one word, it would be chaos. There were twelve of us in a small kitchen, all talking and eating and passing around plates of food.
“It was never boring, I can guarantee you that. Those were some of the best times of my life.’
It’s that kind of atmosphere and home cooking that he and his brothers have tried to emulate in their Wahlburgers restaurants.
Paul entered the world of food and hospitality at the age of 16 when he started working in the kitchen of a catering company that hosted up to 20 events every weekend.
The American chain is known for its beef burgers, salads, sandwiches, loaded totes and frothy shakes
Aussies can expect simple comfort food – including mouthwatering burgers and loaded toddlers
“There was an energy there that I really liked. In the off-season, a friend’s father asked me to come and work in his restaurant. Maybe it was all the exercise I got from helping my mom cook for 12 people, but I took over.
“It was like a Forrest Gump moment. One day someone said, ‘You’re good at this. You should be a chef” and I thought, “Yeah. That is it. That’s what I want to be.’
He worked his way up to chef de cuisine at some of Boston’s top fine dining eateries before opening his own upscale Italian-Mediterranean restaurant and, across the street in 2001, the first Wahlburgers.
With the support of his famous brothers, the restaurants — and the Wahlburgers reality TV series in which she and their beloved mother Alma, who died earlier this year — have been wildly successful.
The Mile 22 star arrived in Australia last November to tour the venue and meet his Australian partners Sam and Roy Mustaca who own United Cinemas, Australia’s largest independent cinema chain.
The first Australian outlet opens in December opposite the Sydney Opera House and serves the same ‘simple comfort food’ as Paul calls it, which the Wahlberg family enjoys during their Sunday get-togethers.
“As one of nine children, I was always hungry,” said Paul. “I used to like that kind of food, like burgers and Sloppy Joes and English muffin pizzas.
Even today my favorite food is burgers. I’m always in the car going to some place and like I said, I’m always hungry. I need something to eat while driving, so it’s a burger.”
Which isn’t to say you can’t get a healthy meal at Wahlburgers — co-owner Mark, a well-known fitness buff, insists.
‘We have salads, chicken, you name it,’ says Paul. “You can’t eat burgers every day – not that I don’t try…”
7 Macquarie St, Opera Quays, Circular Quay. (Formerly Buckley’s Restaurant). Seats for 250. Open breakfast until late. Licensed.