Marco’s Grilled Cheese food cart adds walk-in restaurant

The popular Marco’s Grilled Cheese food cart in the pedestrian mall will now have a walk-in restaurant in downtown Iowa City as well.


Tate Hildyard

The new location of Marco’s Grilled Cheese is seen at 117 N. Linn Street on Friday Sept. 27, 2019.

Hannah Rovner, News Reporter

The beloved Marco’s Grilled Cheese food cart, which opened on the Pedestrian Mall nearly 20 years ago, will open its first walk-in store Nov 1, under a yellow and green awning on 117 N. Linn St.

While the cart will still remain in the hustle and bustle of the Ped Mall, the walk-in restaurant will run with an expanded menu. Both locations will feature Marco’s classic grilled cheese and quesadillas.

“When you’re a food cart, you’re so limited on what you can bring down to your location,” Marco’s Grilled Cheese owner Mark Paterno said.

As a walk-in restaurant, he said, Marco’s will have a very similar menu to the food cart by staying in the boundaries of street food.

Open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturdays, Marco’s restaurant will offer both dine-in and carry-out. Just like its cart counterpart, the restaurant will not offer alcoholic beverages, according to a Facebook post by the business.

RELATED: Spotlight Iowa City: Life in the grilled-cheese lane

As University of Iowa students, Paterno and his friend Pete Johnson,founded the Marco’s food cart in May 2000. Recognizing the success of the late-night food options, the pair also purchased the George’s Best Gyro cart and Paco’s Tacos in 2006 and 2012, respectively.

“I had just gotten back from studying abroad in Spain in 1999, and I was broke,” Paterno said. “I was trying to think of some ideas not to be broke, and it’s cheesy but a light bulb went off in my head.”

The demand for Marco’s now spans across Iowa City to the North Side, with the new location opening at Linn Street in fewer than two months. The location briefly held Linn St. Dive, which closed in May.

In addition to its popularity with Iowa City residents, Paterno also attributed Marco’s expansion to external factors affecting the food carts. Between ongoing construction on the Ped Mall and severe weather, food-cart conditions have not been favorable, he said.

Merging the Marco’s food cart with a restaurant was like another light bulb flashing in his head, Paterno said. The business recently underwent more change, when Paterno became the sole owner of Marco’s Grilled Cheese.

“For many years, we thought [the restaurant] would never come to fruition. It just seems like a natural evolution or progression for Marco’s,” Paterno said. “We’ve been humbled by all the public support we’ve been getting.”

Katie Ann McCarver contributed to this report.