Life with a pinch of salt – Ben and Maria Muscat
Ben and Maria Muscat, the couple behind Ta’ Marija restaurant talk love, marriage and maintaining a sense of humour after 48 years.
The first time Ben Muscat spoke to Maria Gatt was in 1964, when he asked her and her then-boyfriend to give him a lift back home after a night out at the West End club in St Paul’s Bay. “Ben lived at the top of the hill, quite close to the club, but he was always a lazy bum,” says Maria, twinkling. Soon after this unlikely introduction, the pair started dating and the rest is history.
They recount the circumstances that led to them becoming the owners of Ta’ Marija. “Three weeks before our engagement, he came up to me and said, ‘Maria, guess what? I’ve bought a bar!’” Maria says. “My friend and I had been out on a pub crawl,” Ben explains, “And we ended it in Mosta, at what was then called The New Inn. When we went there the next day, the man behind the bar said ‘Hey! It’s the new owners!’ We had bought it when we were completely hammered.”
Ben and Maria decided to make the most of the situation, and when they opened the bar as The Whispers, they immediately put their backs into it. “I was still working as a teacher during the day, so helping out behind the bar in the evening was the only place where I could meet him,” Maria smiles. Whenever they met during the day, Ben would pretend to be shocked and start running his hands over Maria’s face. “You have eyes! You have a nose! One ear is higher than the other!”
They got married on 25th January – the same date that Maria’s parents were married. They exchanged vows at the parish church in Attard, Maria’s hometown. Maria, who to this day is an icon of elegance and poise, made her own wedding dress – a stylish gown with a fur trim. Their reception was of course held at The Whispers, which by then had grown not only into an excellent restaurant, but also a local institution and the crux around which they built their lifestyle. “It was always packed with guests ranging from sailors to ambassadors and governors to members of the US Sixth Fleet,” Ben recalls. When asked how many people there were at the reception, he shrugs. “I don’t know! Loads of people turned up uninvited, just because they knew us. I still don’t know how we managed to fit so many people in. We just didn’t have the heart to turn anyone away.” They spent a month in England on their honeymoon, where they devoted a lot of time to meeting up with the friends they had made at the restaurant who were more than keen to see them again.
Ben and Maria have been married for 48 years, with two children and four grandchildren (a fifth one is on the way), but they still flirt and banter relentlessly. How do they do it? “Life is full of ups and downs,” says Ben. “You really must take everything with a pinch of salt.” Sound words from one of Malta’s top restaurateurs – and even better advice for married life.