Marlena: California Grown, Owned

By Kevin Marquez

The city of Long Beach is a hub for extraordinary culinary experiences and Marlena, a brand-new restaurant located at 5854 E. Naples Plaza has made its mark.

Robert Smith, Marlena’s founder, describes the restaurant as not just your average Italian restaurant but instead a “Californian” restaurant. His explanation behind this is that Marlena’s produce and ingredients are locally grown, and the menu constantly changes when fruits and vegetables become out of season.

Smith opened up to detail his experiences in life that led to his decision to open a restaurant for the first time. To people’s surprise, Smith did not always work in the restaurant industry. He had originally started out studying chemistry and German at Long Beach State.

After hopping around European countries like Germany, Spain, France and England for a number of years, Smith ended up deciding to move back to the United States.

A couple years into his British residency, Smith spoke how “That’s where I decided I will be in the restaurant business and moved back to San Jose and got into restaurants back in 1997.”

Once taking the leap across the Atlantic to pursue a career in the restaurant industry, Smith bounced around different establishments over the years. Smith started out working at an Outback Steakhouse where he learned the basics of the business.

Smith moved on to other restaurants like The Grill on the Alley, which exposed him to the world of higher-end dining.

The teachings that Smith was taught over the years culminated in creating Marlena where he described it as “... a combination of what kind of places I like to work in and what kind of places I like to eat.”

Smith opened up and told his story of why he came back to Southern California in the first place. At the time, Smith’s mother-in-law, Marlene. had an aggressive form of cancer in her system, which led Smith’s wife to become her caretaker.

Sadly, after Marlene’s long and heavy fight against cancer was lost, the grieving couple talked once again about names for the new concept that Smith was brewing in his head.

He said that they should name it after “our reason for coming down here.” The ‘e’ in Marlena was switched to an ’a’ for an Italian vibe and thus, Marlena was born.

Even though Marlena hasn’t been open for long, it has become a hit in the local community. Smith remembered moments where customers would thank him for bringing a restaurant of high quality to their area.

Any restaurant wouldn’t have to deal with its fair share of criticism though. Smith has experienced more than a handful of times where the feedback from customers wasn’t always so friendly.

With only a few months away from celebrating their six-month anniversary, Marlena and its owner have found its place in the heart of Long Beach.

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