Marco’s Grilled Cheese looks to expand with a new island-themed restaurant downtown

The downtown Iowa City restaurant is gaining a new sister location, Marco’s Island, that will offer a Caribbean and island type menu.


Jeff Sigmund

The inside of Marco’s Island is seen on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. With plenty of natural lighting and plant life, the interior of the restaurant has an island feel.

Caitlin Crome, News Reporter

What started out as a food truck is now expanding to its second restaurant. Marco’s Grilled Cheese in downtown Iowa City is gaining a new sister location called Marco’s Island.

Around March 1, 2019, owner of Marco’s Grilled Cheese Mark Paterno said he decided to take over the space next door to its current location, 117 N. Linn St.

“The motivation is to create a little sister satellite station, a different type of restaurant that would complement what we already have next door,” he said.

Paterno said he wanted the new restaurant to deliver foods that required a bigger kitchen than the preparation space in Marco’s Grilled Cheese could accommodate.

“I am trying to keep that island theme in there without getting too eclectic like I tend to do,” he said.

Paterno said he wants Marco’s Island to be known for its island drinks, which can be served with alcohol or as virgin drinks, as well as salads, smoothies, omelets, jerk chicken, fried rice, fish and chips, key lime pie, and more.

“A little bit more like you might find in the Caribbean or on an island,” he said.

But trying to open up a new restaurant during a pandemic hasn’t been smooth sailing, Paterno said.

“[It’s been] absolutely awful,” he said. “The non-stop reacting to the environment around us and having to postpone opening it months and months longer than I wanted to.”

RELATED: Non-alcoholic bar coming to Iowa City by the summer

The biggest challenge, he said, is trying to keep an empty restaurant that is not open yet afloat with rent and payments.

Executive Director of the Iowa City Downtown District Nancy Bird said she is also excited for Paterno to continue to expand into the new location.

“It is always fantastic when a new restaurant can open up in these conditions,” Bird said. “It is nice to see a demand for new restaurants downtown.”

University of Iowa sophomore Sydnee Herman said she’s worked at Marco’s Grilled Cheese for over a year and has really enjoyed it.

“It is the perfect job for college students since it is downtown and easily accessible,” she said. “Finding a job that treats you like family seems hard in such a big college town, so I feel extremely lucky.”

Herman said she is looking forward to the new restaurant opening up, as it will create more job opportunities near campus.

“I feel like it is hard to come up with ways to be different then the restaurants already in town,” she said. “Mark always has these wild ideas to stand out.”

Paterno said he’s still looking at a potential opening date for the restaurant.

“We just keep reacting. Originally it was going to be last fall, but that turned out to be a terrible idea,” he said. “I am telling myself April, so we will see, as long as nothing too crazy happens between now and then.”