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Marianna provides a new home for a familiar cuisine
Renton business partners Santiago Potenciano and Salvatore Lembo got the green light to take their restaurant concept to the next level after a city landlord recognized their potential.
Denny Dochnahl, who owns property in Renton, was a regular customer of the duo’s Vino Ristorante on South Third Avenue for eight years.
Potenciano became a partner in 2010 and built up a growing clientele. Lembo owned Vino for several years prior to 2010 with another partner, before he closed it in 2008.
Dochnahl saw the need for the business to expand its space in Renton and offered the two men the space in his building formerly occupied by restaurant Armondo’s. Marianna Ristorante, Pizzeria and bar opened on Jan. 28.
Potenciano had dreamed about opening a full wine bar upstairs at the former location but was limited by liability and accessibility issues that prevented him from expanding to a second level at Vino.
Marianna’s new space at 310 Wells Ave. S. gives the restaurateurs more square footage, space for a new pizza oven and an even better kitchen.
“A lot of my customers were very very sad that we were leaving that house; but when they saw what I did here, they were just, ‘wow’,” said Potenciano.
Partner Lembo is no stranger to Italian restaurants. He’s owned Bellevue’s Firenze Ristorante Italiano for 20 years. Rosendo Ruiz is the executive chef at Firenze and also a partner at Marianna in Renton.
Originally from Sicily, Lembo came to the states in 1986. He owns a small winery in Tuscany, which produces about 5,000 bottles, which he sells in his restaurants. He also owns Pizzeria Guido and Wine Bar, which his daughter Valentina Lembo manages.
Potenciano and Lembo’s friendship developed during a 15-year period, after Potenciano came to work for him as a busboy.
“I used to change his diapers when he was a baby,” Lembo jokes.
Potenciano, who is originally from Mexico, worked his way up the business, learning from Lembo about Italian food and wine. Potenciano also traveled to Italy and acquired the most important talent from Lembo: how to talk to customers.
“They taught me a lot about wine and Italian food and how to talk to people and connect with them in such a way they come here,” said Potenciano about Lembo’s family. “They (customers) just love the place.”
Marianna is named after Lembo’s mother. Potenciano remembers 10 years ago when Lembo’s mother would cook homemade meals for them. It was Potenciano’s idea to name the restaurant after her.
The menu has all the same favorites as Vino, with the addition of more pizza and pastas. The signature dish is the Farfalle all Marianna: bowtie pasta, prepared with yellow peppers, procuitto and a touch of cream. It’s a dish Lembo’s mother is known for making. Jackson Cavanaugh is the executive chef at Marianna.
The owners kept the colorful, glass pendant lights left over from Armondo’s. However, management tried to create a more European feel by discarding the former pink trim and green carpet interiors for earth tones and tile. There is a private room with a projector and equipment, a stage for entertainment and private parties, as well as the full bar.
“They don’t come just to eat,” said Lembo. “It’s more than just eating. It’s entertainment, it’s social. It’s to meet somebody. It’s to hear the accent, something, you know.”
He calls their operations transparent and believes customers like their authenticity.
“The people they like us because we are not fake; we are not plastic,” Lembo said.
Potenciano sees a great future at the restaurant’s new location and for the city in general.
“I think this place has a lot of potential to grow,” he said. “I think in three to four years from now. We’re like five minutes from the airport. So if people start noticing that people are going to come here and just stop by here. It’s a good spot.”