When Ben Williams ’05 was 15, his father, an Air Force major serving as a dentist, was posted to Aviano Air Force Base near Venice, Italy. Williams quickly tired of the American high school for “Air Force brats” and applied to an Italian school that taught culinary arts in addition to the traditional academic subjects. His parents were perplexed: Williams spoke no Italian. “You watch me. I’ll learn,” he told them. For the next few years, he studied and apprenticed in restaurants around Northern Italy.
When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, his family returned to Bloomington, Ill., where Williams helped start the first Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, which has since become a small restaurant chain. After his mother died, Williams went back to Italy at age 21.
With a friend, Marco Mazzocco, he won a contract to operate a Greek food stand at Aviano AFB. At Marko’s Mediterranean Grill
, they delivered “Greek with a twist,” adding Italian and Lebanese spices and ingredients.
After their 10-year military contract expired in 2011, Williams and Mazzocco opened a second Marko’s in the United States, building a food trailer and stationing it near Eglin AFB in Florida. They soon moved it to Lowell, where Williams was living—and it’s been parked in a lot between Appleton and Summer streets ever since.
Williams isn’t only a chef: He completed his undergraduate degree in political science
at UML and earned a law degree at New England School of Law. Now, in addition to working at Marko’s every weekday at lunchtime, Williams teaches political science classes as an adjunct professor, including Foundations of Law.—KW