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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.