Marino's Lunch to be brought back to life with new owner and vision
Updated: Jun 21, 2022
The tiny Staunton iconic diner and jam session joint on Augusta Street should soon be filled with food and music once again.
Victor Meyer has the vision to return Marino’s to a place that was the "cultural fabric of the community." He and his wife, Nathalie, are taking on the venture together.
They plan on bringing it back "in a way that honors and preserves the Marino family legacy."
He's been talking with family members on how to achieve that.
"As a musician myself, I want to bring Marino’s back as a gathering place where simple, unpretentious food is served, and where traditional music can continue to be be played and enjoyed by people from all walks of life," he said. "And I’m as well speaking with the musicians with whom I once played at Marino’s about how best to do that."
Meyer had been going to Marino's on and off since 2009. A musician himself, he often would participate in the jam sessions. So, he remembers what it was like and he's excited to bring it back.
He grew up in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area and spent 16 years living in the United Kingdom as a Navy Seal.
He officially moved back to the area the beginning of 2018. He and his wife have been renovating their family farm in Mount Sidney.
The Meyers haven't officially closed on the property (which includes both the house and the restaurant), but they expect that to happen next week. Once everything is finalized, the real work will begin — and there's a lot of it.
Everything on the property needs to be updated, especially things on the Marino's Lunch side, like electric upgrades, ADA compliancy and more. Specifics will be decided once Meyer brings in an architect to do an analysis. But, he said he's been working with the city on what the space would require.
"I recognize what a treasure that place was," Meyer said. "For musicians to be themselves, experiment and have jams sessions. I expected it to go on forever. But, that's the thing, those institutions don't go on forever."
His objective isn't to change what Marino's was, it's to enhance it.
"I'd like it to be the kind of place where you walk in and have the impression that if you look really hard, you can't tell it's been updated," he said.
He's looking to capture the same ambience Marino's had with it's dark intimate atmosphere, even down to the slam of the screen door as you enter.
"I want to retain the old vibe," he said.
Marino's closed in 2017 after nearly 100 years. Lilly Arline Marino’s family ran the North Augusta Street restaurant and lived in the adjacent house while they owned the property. Marino’s father- and mother-in-law, Dominick and Catherina Marino, originally purchased the property and passed it down.
Marino’s Lunch started as a little community store in the early 1920s when the Italian family came to Staunton. The Marinos bought the building from the Jones clan, a local family that operates Jones Funeral Home, a little south on Augusta Street.
After the Marino’s son Anthony returned from fighting in the Pacific, he married Arline in 1946 and — years laters — the couple began running the family's business together. After Anthony’s death in 1963, Arline had a decision to make: sell the store, or run it herself
She decided to run it herself for sometime, along with other family members, and passed away June 28, 2018. She was 91 years old.
The bluegrass sessions began more than 40 years ago on Tuesdays, because the family believed that day of the week would offer a slow night.
Lilly Arline Marino passed away June 28, 2018 at the age of 91.
The next phase
Moving forward, the Meyers will start with the residential portion of the property. They plan on making it two apartments, one on the first level and another on the second, and hopefully moving into the top apartment.
The two purchased the property with cash, below the asking price of $295,000. They expect to spend $100,000 on the residential side and hopefully less on the restaurant side.
He's been talking with the Marino family on how keeping the integrity of the place while still updating it.
Carolyn Ruleman, the daughter of Arline Marino, ran the place with her family for 40 years prior to it closing. She's excited to see a rebirth of the place.
"I think it's great," she said. "It would be great to get it back where it was. I love that somebody else want to do it."
She's hopeful it will serve as a place for musicians to go to and has been working with the Meyers on attaining that goal.
"I want Marino's to go for another 100 years," Meyer said.
Meyer hopes the restaurant and music venue will be open sometime in 2019. Marino's Lunch is located at 901 N. Augusta St. in Staunton.