REGINA KOETTERS, a retired Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserve, is the owner of Marty’s Market, a specialty restaurant, food market and coffeehouse in the Strip District in Pittsburgh that focuses on offering top quality food and ingredients that are all natural and free of harmful chemicals. She emphasizes transparency and manifests that ideal in Marty’s Market with a 360-degree kitchen, glass walls and multiple large, welcoming entrances. Although she had no previous experience in the industry, Regina decided to bring a new food concept to Pittsburgh with the aim of catalyzing investment in the city as well as strengthening the region’s food system and bringing the community together.
Koetters has a long-held interest in city development. She went to Iraq with the U.S. Navy for a year, managing the country's largest airbase, Al Asad, overseeing day-to-day operations of construction projects, squadron stations, fueling operations, and helping to train Iraqi air force pilots. She also studied ship design at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and was an instructor at the University of Michigan, teaching classes for the Navy. There she earned her MBA and a Master’s in real estate development.
Despite her success in the military, Koetters envisioned a career different than what the Navy offered. Ultimately, she found the opportunity to put all her talents and education to use in one creative endeavor, and Marty’s Market was born.
Meghan Klingenberg: Marty’s Market is such a cool idea. Thank you so much for being there today, this is really awesome! We’re here because U.S. Soccer has this awesome campaign, #SheBelieves, and the reason we started it and want to do it is because we want to inspire girls and women to know that we believe in them because we were those kids. We looked up to people like you; to business centers like yours when we were little. We know that young people are going to change the world. We think Marty’s Market is a great initiative, and I think you thought it was a great initiative.
Regina Koetters: I think it’s amazing!
MK: We want to ask you about Marty’s Market, how you got here and what led you to do this. It’s obviously different from what I do, it’s not a professional athlete role but it’s really cool. Tell us what inspired you to open up this market?
RK: For me everything has an origin in ‘how can I make a difference?’ So, everything for me has been about that, and I’ve always felt like that since I was really young, but I’ve never been tied down to a specific avenue. If there’s a need and I can fill it, I respond to that. Marty’s Market is a response to a need here in Pittsburgh for championing locally grown food; food grown in a traditionally pesticide-free sort of way, honest food and connecting Pittsburghers to that source of food. One of the things I’ve learned is that food connects people. I have no background in the industry per se, but in all my travels with the Navy, I can say that everyone speaks the word ‘yum’.
MK: Hahaha, yes! Especially here in Pittsburgh!
RK: For sure. We have such an eclectic group of people here. I have found that if someone has you over to his or her home and they prepare food, they are part of that food and they want you to enjoy it. So in the lack of language we can instead just eat together and break bread together. Food is really important. Thirty percent of the water pollution generated in the U.S. is actually created by agriculture. Pittsburgh sits in the most amazing clean watershed in the country, and I think we should be a steward of that. One way I can make an impact is championing food that doesn’t contribute to water pollution. That’s really grandiose and transcending, and it gets me up in the morning, but everyday I also get to make connections with people, whether it’s the farmers or customers or the market staff – give them a stage to do what they do so well. You know how to turn a soccer field into your domain!
MK: Plant your flag and make sure everyone knows you’re there!
RK: Exactly! And that’s how I am in the kitchen. I am not a cook but I am an awesome eater so I just get out of the way and these folks are really passionate about it. It’s just changing the world, changing the community I’m in and responding to the need. I’m fortunate that all of the experiences I’ve been through, even though they were not related to food, positioned me to launch this business.
MK: So you wanted to be the space. You didn’t want to be the cook or anything but the space to bring people together. How did you do this? How did you go about starting Marty's Market when you had no experience? That must have been quite the endeavor. Starting something new is always difficult but investing your time and resources is difficult. Tell us about that.
RK: I think anything is difficult if we try to do it on our own. So I think the first step in being successful in any channel of life is recognizing that you need help and that asking for help is one of the most courageous things that you can do. I have been very open along the way and inquisitive with people who seem to know a heck of a lot more than I do. I just pick their brains and invite them to share with me that struggle that they had. Businesses really exist to solve problems. Pittsburgh is a community that embraces its people.
MK: So what’s next?
RK: Oooh, maybe Marty's Market 2? For me, everything I do has an origin in, ‘How can I make a difference?’
MK: Because you know there is always something next. Especially for the people that are building and creating and doing; there is always something more. For me, its building towards the Olympics, building my soccer camp because I want to be able to give back to my community.
RK: Yeah, it’s channeling your passion and your enthusiasm in a way that really resonates with you. That’s contagious and the thing is that people who share that passion and maybe share the experience as well, it’s really easy to get on board with you and what you’re able to create cooperatively is so much better then. Its’ by voicing it and making yourself available and saying ‘this is important to me and I’m going to go for this, are you coming with me?’
MK: If you had to pick one thing that you did in opening a business, in coming to Pittsburgh, in choosing to be here, that could inspire a kid that wants to open a business, wants to give back to the community, wants to be a soccer player, what would you say to them?
RK: To try. Several different intersections in my life I have been, like say, going to the Naval Academy. Ten thousand students apply, 1200 get in. Rather than me saying I’m not good enough, I let them tell me no. Same thing happened in flight school in the Navy, pursuing the orders, the destinations that I wanted. And even now, I let others tell me no, but inside I say ‘Yes. I’m going to go for it.’ Because the worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out.
MK: Wonderful! Thank you so much for coming. This has been awesome and it’s been so great talking to you.