See the full issue of the July 400 Life magazine here.
There were lots of big plans for Marie’s Italian Deli in 2020, including a new expansion that would increase seating, the size of the popular eatery’s bakery and doubling the number of beer taps and having a new focus on college football Saturdays.
But, just like every other business, COVID-19 meant a change in plans for Marie’s, though after a few months of social distancing, those original plans are getting back on track.
Owner Karen Smith said the restaurant’s renovations were completed in early February and had been opened for five weeks when the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect, but the restaurant is finally getting a chance to show off the new additions.
“Bakery sales were up 400% in those five weeks,” Karen said.
“We were finally able to do the things we’d always wanted to do,” added her son, Matt. “We’ve been wanting to become the place where people come to watch a football game or something like that when college football season comes around, so we didn’t really have that vibe in our restaurant until we got this new space.”
The expansion means twice as many beer taps, a bigger bakery and an additional 60 seats, for a maximum capacity of 140 customers. The expansion even meant that as Marie’s reopened dining, 60 customers could come in instead of 30, the amount they would have been allowed pre-expansion.
Story continues below
Employees are constantly cleaning and disinfecting the inside of the restaurant and Marie’s is planning a new rush of weekly events, such as family nights on Mondays, trivia on Tuesday, wine special on Wednesdays, Thirsty Thursdays and, starting in the fall, Dawg Days at Marie’s on Saturday. They are even looking at staying open later and having more bands stop by.
“We’re still not a sports bar, but we want to attract some of those people because it’s fun to watch games,” Matt said.
While customers have already been coming back for sit-in dining, Karen said the restaurant stayed busy during the pandemic and said their customers showed a lot of support.
“We shut down before we were ordered to because we thought, ‘We’ll flatten the curve, do the right thing,’ so we went to curbside, and our customers were unbelievable,” she said. “It was almost funny, the first Friday night I almost called the police in to direct traffic. Between us and Los Rios, the parking lot was insane.”
While closed to dine-in customers, a popular hashtag for Marie’s was #SeeYouInTheParkingLot, and, thanks to a friend of Matt’s, they even had Tailgate Trivia in the parking lot, where players wrote down their answers from their cars or lawn chairs in the parking lot and answers were gathered with pizza paddles, which at about six-feet-long were perfect for social distancing, with baskets on the end.
“Our parking lot being so big has been one of our greatest assets too,” Matt said. “I think it’s led to our success because you can park anywhere, down at the thrift store to down at Los Rios, so we use it to our advantage, and people have plenty of space to space out.”
Story continues below
While popular for families missing one of their favorite restaurants or who didn’t want to cook, Marie’s was also a popular spot for those who wanted to donate meals to first responders or others. The restaurant bagged more than 1,650 lunches for students in Forsyth County who were missing their school meals. They also partnered with the Cumming Police Department to get meals to seniors.
“We’d make soup and people would call in, they’d line up soups for seniors and they would go deliver it for us, the city police… I called them and said, ‘Do you guys mind delivering this?’ They said, ‘I’ll be right there,’” Karen said. “They’re awesome.”
Both Karen and Matt said that support was critical not only during the shutdown, but also as the restaurant attempts to return to normal.
“I was overwhelmed how many amazing people with just unbelievable hearts and generosity came out that we had never seen before, some of these people,” Matt said. “It really brings out the best in people. You just have to keep a good attitude about it, keep pushing.”
“One guy came in and bought a $1,000 gift card to feed the city police anytime they came by,” Karen added. “Stuff like that, and people are ordering all this food to feed the hospital, the fire stations.”