Alaska Life

How the oil price crash turned one man from energy worker to pizzeria owner

It was oil and gas work that sparked Mark Harlan's desire to open a pizzeria, and it was his eventual layoff that led to its creation.

In 2007, Harlan was working as a logistics manager for Eni Petroleum Co., an oil and gas company based in Italy. When training took him to Milan that year, it also took him to a pizzeria that changed his life. Eating the thin-crust, lightly topped pizzas of the region, he was determined to bring it to Alaska.

But the effort was largely on hold, at least until 2014, when the price of oil crashed, and oil companies began reassessing their investments.

Harlan, 57, who had moved from Eni to Repsol in 2013, said he saw the writing on the wall as the price of oil plunged. The Colville River project he was working on switched hands, with Armstrong Oil and Gas going from a minority to majority partner. Work became less abundant.

Harlan signed the lease for the Fireweed Lane restaurant location in February 2016; he was laid off in March.

While Italian country-style pizza is the focus at his Midtown restaurant, oil and gas still has a presence. There's a photo of an Eni project in the back of the restaurant. The restaurant's name, Marco T's Pizzeria, comes from one of Harlan's Italian colleagues who helped develop the menu.

Harlan admits he's learning every day through the work of his children, Phoenix, 26, and Ethan, 25, both of whom have restaurant experience. Phoenix focuses on the front of the house while Ethan serves as the kitchen manager.


But Harlan said his experience in project management has been beneficial in transitioning from oil and gas to the restaurant industry.

"A lot of the same components are there," he said about opening the restaurant. "It's just a matter of scale and back to how you delegate and (are) able to step away from what you're not good at."


Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.