What's Cookin'?

Marcia Tolive, B.A. ’81

Bringing People Together

By Amy Halloran, B.A.’90

Marcia Tolive opened El Loco Restaurant on Madison Avenue in Albany in 1983. The Westchester native went to UAlbany to study business but switched to sociology after two years. Her education, however, has applied to her career more than you might think.

Marcia Tolive

ociology is just marketing without trying to get people to buy things. I use sociology every single day because I deal with people,” said Tolive, whose 60-seat restaurant is a Capital Region fixture.

“We’ve offered health insurance for 20 years,” she added. “We were one of the first restaurants to do that. I recognize that this is not just a business.”

The sense that the restaurant is a people-centered enterprise, for both workers and customers, perhaps comes from Tolive’s thinking like a sociologist.

Her minor in business administration turned out to be important, too. She uses basic accounting skills daily and marketing routinely. The market research she did door-to-door – including one survey for Cup-A-Soup – added to her understanding of people and business, too.

El Loco began as a lunch cart at the Capitol building; after a season, Tolive and her business (and romantic) partner looked for an indoor location. Using money she’d saved up to backpack around Europe, they opened the restaurant.

“I said I’d do it for a year,” she laughed. When the year was up, her mate was gone, but she and the business stayed put. Eventually, she traveled around Europe with her daughters.

When she celebrated El Loco’s 20th anniversary, former staff came from all over – even Alaska.

Tolive is happiest “when I bring people together. Whether it’s bringing together people who are eating and having a good time, or whether it’s my staff, the restaurant’s a nexus, and I think that’s my importance in life.”