A Tennis Star’s New Serve: How Athletics Hall of Famer Jill Marcus ‘86 Became One of Charlotte’s Hottest Restaurateurs

Entrepreneur Jill Marcus ’86

While a Davidson student, Marcus discovered a love of travel and a passion for food that has shaped her life’s work. She’s pictured here during a trip to the Sahara.

When the Davidson Athletics Hall of Fame inducts its 29th class, Jill Marcus ’86 will be among them. She was a member of the 1984 women’s tennis team that became Davidson College’s first national champions. Marcus, then a sophomore, had her eyes set on a career as a tennis pro. 

But it was the following year—the one when Marcus didn’t play tennis—that set the path of her life. 

During Marcus’s junior year, she studied abroad in Brittany, France, ready to advance her game in a new country. It didn’t work that way; she didn’t qualify to play on the university team because she lacked a French national ranking. Heartbroken, she devised a Plan B. Armed with a Eurorail pass, Marcus spent her time outside of class—and some time meant for class—tasting her way through Europe.  

She had the modest budget of a student, and the outsized curiosity of one. Stop by stop, she fell in love with countries by falling in love with their flavors: the savory crepes and mussels in France, the tzatziki in Greece. She jokes that before that trip, tacos seemed exotic.

When she came home, she was hungry to learn more about the world and its food, and ready to travel again.  

Food-lovers might feel grateful for France’s mistake in keeping Marcus off the courts. Her study-abroad trip inspired a love of travel and food that would enrich the restaurant scene in Charlotte. Tennis’s loss became the culinary world’s gain. 

Marcus opened Something Classic catering in 1989; then Halcyon, a James Beard-nominated farm-to-table restaurant in the Mint Museum, in 2010; and then Fern, the city’s much-needed vegetarian restaurant, in 2011. Last year, she transitioned Halcyon’s space into Mariposa, a “world-to-table” restaurant where the menu doubles as a travelogue: the Mariposa Mezze Board, inspired by Marcus’s travels to Morocco and the Jemaa el-Fnaa market in Marrakesh; the Tandoori Spiced Cauliflower, a memory of a meal shared with women in an Indian village after earthquake tremors shook the land and her nerves.  

“[Mariposa] is all about shared cultures and bringing those cultures together so that people can have conversation,” Marcus said. “Being in the Mint Museum, it brings so many different people together: artists, art appreciators, politicians, athletes… I love combining all of these different people and cultures into one space. And if they’re talking about food, doesn’t that unite us all?” 

Marcus, busy enough with her own business ventures, still makes time to help Davidson College students launch their ideas. She serves on the Avinger Impact Fund Advisory Committee, awarding grants that help fund students’ entrepreneurial ambitions. The fund honors former Davidson College professor Robert Avinger, who taught economics and mentored aspiring entrepreneurs, who passed away last June. Marcus has been close to Robert’s wife Jane since her Davidson days, when she played on the tennis team with the Avingers’ daughter.  

Hub & Spoke, presented by the Hurt Hub@Davidson, aims to build a strong community of entrepreneurs and innovators by sharing the stories of Davidson alumni, students, faculty, parents, friends, and our greater community.

Watch Jill Marcus Interviewed on Hub & Spoke

Avinger said Marcus has always had a creative, entrepreneurial spirit. She remembered a time, years ago, when Marcus helped her host a church luncheon. The invitation list they were given—500 people!—exceeded any available space. Disaster loomed. Marcus, ever creative, devised a boxed lunch concept in which attendees could bring lunch to the sanctuary to enjoy in the pews. Avinger later received a note from a young boy who wrote that it made him so happy to see the sanctuary, typically quiet, full of people laughing, telling stories, and enjoying food together. Avinger kept his card as a memento. If that wasn’t communion, what is? 

“Jill’s got this insight into what people need and how to help them find what they’re looking for,” Avinger said. “Jill’s such a happy person. She’s dependable in every sense, as well as being so gifted and creative.”  

Marcus is preparing to open a buvette/café in Charlotte later this year, Coquette, inspired by her first trip to Brittany. It’ll infuse French romance into uptown, offering a cozy place to linger amid oysters, charcuterie and a patisserie. It seems like the ultimate souvenir from a trip that took her somewhere she never intended. 

Still, however, it makes one wonder: What would’ve happened if Marcus got to play tennis in France? Would it have been another step toward the pros?  

But what would’ve happened if she didn’t have time to taste-test her way around Europe? How many people would miss the chance to travel the world from an uptown museum? How many students wouldn’t get the opportunity to launch their own business dreams, inspired by a fellow alum who did? 

Marcus never put down her racquet. She still plays competitively at Olde Providence Racquet Club in Charlotte. But when she started to travel, to taste new flavors, to open restaurants, she discovered another passion. And, as any traveler knows, even the best plans should yield to serendipity. 

Explore the Avinger Impact Fund and the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Explore Economics at Davidson

The Davidson College Athletics Hall of Fame recognizes the outstanding contributions former athletes, coaches, and staff have made to Davidson Athletics. This year’s ceremony will take place Feb. 26. Read more about this year’s inductees, including the 1984 Women’s Tennis Team.