Stories from Downtown - Marina’s on the Square and Domenico’s Italian Deli

During the COVID-19 quarantine, restaurants, considered essential, have been allowed to stay open with takeout and delivery options.

Two such restaurants downtown, Marina’s on the Square and Domenico’s Italian Deli, have both faced the challenges that come with closing their dining rooms.

Without the opportunity to seat customers inside their restaurants these small business owners have found some unique ways to serve their loyal supporters and reach a new customer base.

Cleaning, sanitizing and a little redecorating have become the new pastime for these two downtown restaurant owners.  Marina’s owner Doug Duross said he has been staining and refinishing tables during his down time, something he has wanted to do for years.  Domenico’s owner Jeff Murphy said, “We have been promoting more on social media and added neighborhood deliveries, which we had not previously considered doing.”

Marina’s also started delivering and found that their pizza sales quadrupled.  “People didn’t realize we had pizza at Marina’s,” Duross laughed.  Murphy said, “Domenico’s has been selling more of our meats and cheeses by the pound, so customers can make sandwiches at home.”

Both restaurant owners miss the opportunity to see and talk with their customers more than anything.

“We have an incredible community downtown and with everyone being gone it has created a very eerie atmosphere on the square,” said Murphy.  The businesses operating around the square have all been a great support for each other during this time.  “We have said it several times since this all began, had we been anywhere else, in any other town, we likely would not have survived this from a business standpoint,” said Murphy.

When reflecting on how small businesses have been impacted by COVID-19, Duross stated, “It is a catch 22 – we want to promote small businesses during this time, but we have friends that are employees in corporate restaurants who have lost their jobs as well.  These are all people who make up our community.”  At the same time Duross pointed out that lobbyists really fought for corporate restaurants to get funding from the government where most small businesses took the biggest hit financially during this pandemic.

Murphy wants the community to know that there are a lot more small and locally owned businesses than most people think.  “It is a huge risk when starting and owning a small business. Most people put everything they have on the line for that business,” said Murphy.  Being a third-generation small business owner Murphy understands the relationship between his business and the customers.  “We truly appreciate every person who has come and supported us during this trying time. This whole experience has been a huge test in faith, not just in our business but in God.  I hope people view our downtown business community as a vital part of downtown life.”

Both restaurant owners agree that whether you work, live, or just come visit downtown, our community needs everyone to keep it thriving by supporting the businesses located downtown.

Murphy and Duross both credit their families as being their biggest cheerleaders.  Duross has watched his four children grow up in Marina’s and is thankful especially now for his oldest daughter’s savvy social media skills that have helped expand his business, even more so during this time of needing to reach new people.  Murphy shared how his extended family discusses business a lot.  His in-law’s own Rick’s Barbecue in Murfreesboro and his parents still run the original Domenico’s Deli in California.  “We all just try to support each other mentally and emotionally during this time.”

Marina’s has seen a lot of changes in the past 22 years.  Opening Marina’s in January of 1992, John and Cindy Paulverino sold the restaurant to Duross and his wife in 1998.  “We were able to be profitable within three months of buying.  We kept all the items on the original menu, only changing ingredients and how things were cooked.”  Duross has always liked to cook, even though not a trained chef, and credits his family’s history of great cooks.  “I spent the first two weeks after buying Marina’s just washing dishes.  I watched what people ordered, how much food they left on their plates, and the flow of the employees.  Then I made changes.”  Most restaurant owners do not work in their restaurant.  “I am in my restaurant every day it is open, working alongside my employees.  I can do this because it is a small restaurant.”  Duross shared, “I have learned bigger isn’t always better.”

When remembering his first year at Marina’s Duross recalled, “When cellphones first became popular Marina’s didn’t have a bar; our customers waiting for a table were able to walk around the square and shop until we called them when their table was open.  That was what made being downtown special.”

Brand new to the downtown this year, Domenico’s Italian Deli opened in January.  “I never realized how busy downtown was until opening our storefront,” reminisced Murphy.  It had been Murphy’s dream to work in his family business back home.  But after playing football at MTSU, he married Scarlett Lanning, his college sweetheart, and decided to make Murfreesboro his permanent home.  The couple dreamed of opening Domenico’s in Murfreesboro for years.

“I grew up in this business.  My grandparents started Domenico’s in Alameda, California and then my siblings and I worked there when my parents took it over.”  When asked why he chose downtown to open Domenico’s Murphy stated, “Downtown reminds me of my hometown and I always loved coming to the square while at MTSU.”  After two years of looking for a location downtown Jeff and Scarlett found the perfect building.  “Downtown is exactly where we wanted to be.  The sense of community you get here is not like any other around town.”  The couple spent months refurbishing the inside of the South Maple building, exposing original brick walls and adding MTSU football memorabilia to the décor.

When asked how downtown has changed over the last 20 years, Duross recalls when City Café, Mediterranean Restaurant, Front Porch, and Bangkok Café were the only other restaurants with Marina’s.  “When I was President of the Downtown Business Association, I encouraged lawyer’s offices to move upstairs and open their ground floor space for more retail businesses.”  He still thinks that would be a good idea, stating downtown needs more retail businesses.  Marina’s almost moved into the building that now houses Puckett’s Restaurant when Duross bought it in 2003.  Letting others convince him not to move Marina’s to the opposite side of the square, he sold the building in 2009.  “This is one of my biggest regrets.”

Domenico’s owner reflected on his parents’ experience in the restaurant business growing up.  “I saw my parents go through every type of situation in this business.  I feel like my parents’ and grandparents’ experiences have prepared me to handle the stress of being a business owner.”  When asked why he chose the name Domenico, Murphy stated, “It means Dominic in Italian.  That is my grandfather’s name, which is my middle name, and my son’s name.  It is the family business, so I wanted to continue the tradition and honor my family.”

Open for only two months before COVID-19 shut the inside of his store, Murphy had already observed there was a buzz about downtown. “It is on the rise and will be even greater than it already is. We are excited to be a part of the future of downtown.” Murphy agrees that more retail and a variety of businesses would improve the foot traffic downtown and more events on the square would be something he would like to see in the next few years.

If you have a desire for Italian food, whether it is a deli style sandwich for lunch or a date night with pasta and wine, you need to make plans to come downtown and try these two fantastic restaurants.  Main Street is thankful for the tried and true dining experience of Marina’s on the Square as well as the new and authentic taste of Domenico’s Italian Deli in the historic downtown.

Main Street challenges you to visit these small businesses’ websites and follow them on Facebook.

Marina’s is located on 125 North Maple. Check out their menu: www.marinasonthesquaremenu.com
Domenico’s is located on 106 South Maple. Check out their menu: www.domenicosdelitn.com

Both restaurants will be open this week for dine in eating.  Take out and deliveries are still available.

Watch for future “Stories from Downtown” as Main Street highlights our diverse and unique small business owners that make up Murfreesboro’s Historic Downtown.