Mark Motors revs it up into party mode to celebrate new west-end dealership and 60-year anniversary

Ottawa business was founded in 1959 by Austrian auto mechanic Louis Mrak after he came to Canada with just his suitcase and a few bucks
Editor's Note

OBJ.Social is supported by the generous patronage of Mark MotorsBruyère FoundationMarilyn Wilson Dream Properties and Sparks Dental. Read their stories here.

If odometers measured years instead of mileage, they'd have reached 60 for Mark Motors Group, a top luxury car dealership in Ottawa.

The local business is making big and bold moves by expanding and modernizing faster than an Audi R8 V10 on a deserted, straight highway. To celebrate, the company threw a first-class party on Wednesday night.

Many of the 1,000 invited guests turned out to Mark Motors’ beautiful, brand new Audi West Ottawa dealership on Hunt Club Road West. The evening marked both the opening of the 54,000-square-foot facility and the family-owned company’s six decades of doing business in the region.

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This vintage car, the Auto Union 1000, was on display at the grand opening of Audi West Ottawa and Mark Motors Group anniversary party, which took guests through its past 60 years of doing business in Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Just three years ago, Mark Motors cut the ribbon on its 80,000-square-foot Audi facility on Montreal Road. 

“The opening of the east end and now the west end is indicative of the attraction of the Audi brand, the strength of our reputation as technological pioneers, and our continued commitment to innovation, and supporting our community,” said dealer principal Michael Mrak while sharing the podium with his sister, executive vice president Liza Mrak.  They spoke on behalf of the Mrak family, which includes matriarch Margaret and their brothers, Andreas and Vincent.

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From left, Michael Mrak, Margaret Mrak, Liza Mrak, Andreas Mrak and Vincent Mrak on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, at the grand opening of Audi West Ottawa and the 60-year anniversary of Mark Motors Group in Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Michael also thanked customers for their continued support, loyalty and feedback and for helping Mark Motors get to where it is today. The company employs more than 250 people.

The new facility on Hunt Club features a two-storey showroom, 21 service bays, three new car delivery rooms, a customer presentation lounge, a feature car display and an Audi sports centre. 

Mayor Jim Watson dropped by to present a framed letter of congratulations to the Mrak family. Four years ago, Mark Motors was recognized for its support of local causes when it won the award for Outstanding Small Business at the annual Philanthropy Awards Dinner hosted by the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. 

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From left, Andreas Mrak with Liza Mrak, Mayor Jim Watson, Michael Mrak and Vincent Mrak on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, at the grand opening of Audi West Ottawa and the 60-year anniversary of Mark Motors Group in Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Organizers brought out the big guns to help with the bash, and it showed. The thematic party took guests through the past six decades, both with food and decor.

There was a jukebox playing nostalgic old tunes while staff from John Borsten's Zak’s Diner served burger sliders, fries and milkshakes. Skip ahead in time and, in another section of the building, there were pop hits and music videos from the 1980s playing. Guests didn't have to empty their pockets of quarters on the vintage pinball machines and classic arcade game Pac-Man.

You couldn't miss the contortionist who greeted guests while performing full back bends and pretzel-like moves, nor the visual artist who dashed off a painting of an Audi car, in no time at all.

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Contortionist Myriam Will Ross at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and Mark Motors' 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The party-planing team included Angela Spicer from Event Design, Carolyn Parker from Triple Event Services, and Thyme & Again caterer Sheila Whyte, who had fun with the 1980s, ‘90s, 2000s and beyond menu. 

As one might well expect, there was valet parking.

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From left, Carolyn Parker, president of Triple Event Services Inc., with Mark Motors' Andreas Mrak and Dabrowka Farah at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and Mark Motors' 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Samantha Goodman from Zak's Diner was serving burger sliders, fries and mini milkshakes at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and 60th anniversary party for Mark Motors Group, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Jessica Gorlicky worked at a speedy pace to complete her painting of an Audi car at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and 60th anniversary party for Mark Motors Group, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Guests played arcade games at the new Audi West Ottawa dealership, which threw a themed party that featured the 1960s to 2000s and beyond, in celebration of Mark Motors' 60 years of doing business in Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Guests were served aperol spritz cocktails upon their arrival to the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and 60th anniversary party for the Ottawa dealership, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The story of Mark Motors’ beginnings is a familiar one: a young immigrant landing on the shores of Halifax with a few dollars in his pocket and dreams of bigger things. His name was Louis Mrak. The 21-year-old newcomer, who was born in Slovenia but escaped to Austria to escape the Communists, made his way by train to Ottawa in 1956. He toted a single suitcase. That ratty old piece of luggage — which the family has held onto all these years — was held up at the party for everyone to see, as it represents Mrak's modest beginnings as one of the pioneers of Ottawa’s automotive industry. 

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Liza Mrk, executive vice president of Mark Motors Group, holds up the original suitcase that her father, the late Louis Mrak, brought with him when he immigrated to Canada, from Austria, in 1956. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Mrak, who was an experienced auto mechanic, wanted to open up a European service centre. He got himself a job at a Volkswagen dealership in Rockland and took classes in the evenings to learn the English language. 

During his early years in Canada, Mrak also met his future wife, Margaret. She immigrated from Germany the same year as him and was working at the Château Laurier hotel, managing the household of the CN Rail family. In 1959, they married and started their business with five employees.

Liza Mrak gave guests the inside story on how the company came to be named Mark Motors. It happened when her father was incorporating his small business. “He was made aware by many that his name was, well, different,” said Liza.

“‘Mrak’ to some in 1950s Ottawa was a bit too off-putting, too difficult to spell, too confusing to others. At the not-so-subtle suggestion of his lawyers and lenders he made the decision to name his business Mark Motors.

“Whether that bothered much him or not, he certainly didn’t let on. He was determined and focused on putting attention toward his business because he knew that selling European luxury vehicles was an uphill battle. But, he was steadfast in his belief that he could overcome any obstacles."

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Mark Motors executive vice president Liza Mrak and her brother, dealer principal Michael Mrak, at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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François Guimont, general manager of Mark Motors, previously held the positions of deputy minister of Public Safety, deputy commissioner of customs and revenue, and president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Mike Giunta and Melissa Lamb, who is the brand ambassador for Mark Motors, emceed the grand opening ceremony for Audi West Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Philips

At the age of 24, only three years after he first arrived to Canada, Mrak had his own business up and running, with a staff of five.

“He thought big,” added Liza, while pointing out that, at that time, Ottawa was not a city of one million, as it is today. “Anything on the south side of the Rideau River was cottage country or very early suburbs.”

The year 1974 was a turning point for Mark Motors. That’s when it was awarded the Porsche and Audi franchises in Ottawa.

Mrak passed away in 2012 at the age of 77.

Today, Mark Motors Group not only sells Audis and Porsches but has expanded its European luxury car portfolio to include Maserati and Alfa Romeo cars, and is soon opening a Land Rover and Jaguar dealership at its former, nearby Hunt Club Road space. It has a new retail experience store at Lansdowne called Audi City Ottawa and is also now selling eco-friendly electric cars.

Business at Mark Motors is consistent and steady, the owners told OBJ.social.

OBJ.social asked the rookie question: “So, how many cars does Mark Motors sell, anyway?” but was told that’s like asking someone what colour their underwear is. It’s personal. What they did share is: Mark Motors’ Audi stores have the highest market share in the Ottawa-Gatineau region for premium luxury car category. In the Audi Canada world, it’s top three in total market share. It’s also also above the national average.

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Liza Mrak, executive vice president of Mark Motors Group Ottawa, with her partner, Gary Zed, next to a shiny new Audi R8 Coupé at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Monica Singhal from the family-owned Richcraft Homes with Elizabeth Lahey from The Properties Group, at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and Mark Motors' 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Majida Saikaley with Aik Aliferis, senior managing director of investments on Marcus & Millichap's Toronto & Ottawa teams, and Samar Saab at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and 60th anniversary party for the Ottawa dealership, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, GunnMedia Group general manager Tyler Duncan with president Shawn Rivers at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and Mark Motors' 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, retired car dealership owner Paul Belisle, formerly of Belisle Cadillac Chevrolet, with DCR/Phoenix Group of Companies founder Cuckoo Kochar, Michael Mrak, Donna Belisle and Madhu Kochar at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Dennis Laurin, owner of the Laurin Group — which was the general contractor for the new Audi West Ottawa building — with his wife, Andrea Laurin, and Ted Rose, service manager at Mark Motors, with his wife, Christine Rose, at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and Mark Motors' 60th anniversary party, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Shannon Jones, coordinator of corporate partnerships with the Ottawa Senators hockey club, with Mark Motors Group marketing associate Dana Smith and Mark Bonneau, senior vice president of corporate strategy and sales for the Ottawa Senators hockey club, at the grand opening party for Audi West Ottawa and Mark Motors' 60th anniversary party. Photo by Caroline Phillips

– caroline@obj.ca