If it’s a Friday night, you’ll find Marco’s Pizzeria owner Christine Lane behind the bar. During the week, the hands-on owner of the long-standing local haunt juggles payroll, accounts payable, taxes and human resources. But as busy as she is, she says she can’t imagine doing anything else.
Mountain Xpress: How long has Marco’s been around?
Christine Lane: We opened in 1994. We’ve moved a few times since we first opened in North Asheville, and then, about 15 years ago, we opened a second location in the south part of town.
What is your work background/education?
I’m from Queens, New York, and used to work in the insurance industry. However, being half Irish and half Italian, my family and I always cooked. When an opportunity arose to move to Asheville and run this family business, I was ready for the challenge. In 1994, there were no resources available like there are now, so you could say my education in the restaurant industry was learned the hard way. Today, it remains a family business. I have three children – Dominic, Amy and Brian – they all work here. I also have four grandchildren that range in age from 5-17. The 13-year-old is about to get her working papers and, yes, she’ll be working here.
Do you miss living in New York City?
When I first moved here, it was a different world. Marco’s was really the only kid on the block. I missed some of the ethnic flavor of New York and the ability to get just about anything at any time. That’s changed. Asheville is much more diverse now. We still need a good Jewish deli!
How has business evolved since 1994?
When we first opened, we had a handful of employees and a dining room capacity of about 50. Our menu consisted of pizza and salad only. Several moves later and with the addition of our second shop, we have more than tripled our seating capacity and offer many more items. We’re also very proud of our employees — we have a hardworking, dedicated and diverse staff of about 40.
You were one of the first to get involved with the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, right? How has that helped you?
It gives me a feeling of solidarity. It’s a great support system. No one is alone. We’re all in this together, and we’re always working on something. Right now, we’re focused on getting the numbers off the health score ratings.
What’s one of your favorite menu items?
On Friday nights, I usually treat myself to a pizza with cooked onions. I also love our Greek salad.
Do you feel pressure from mounting competition?
Business is good. Asheville is home to so many restaurants, and it continues to grow. This doesn’t cause challenges but gives us a great opportunity to continue to remain fresh in an ever-evolving culture — it keeps us on our toes. There’s always an initial impact when a new pizza shop opens up, but competition is a good thing. It makes us continuously look at what we offer, who we are and how we can do better. There’s room for everyone.
Are your customers a mix of locals and visitors alike?
The majority of our business is derived from locals, but we love when a tourist hears about us and wants to give us a try. Neither of our locations lends itself to much tourist traffic, but we try to attract everyone and do some advertising at the Asheville Visitor Center.
What sets Marco’s apart from others?
Marco’s is family-owned and operated with a strong family presence in every facet of the restaurant — front and back of house, as well as all bookkeeping, marketing, etc. All of our sauces and dough are made fresh daily in-house, and we have a robust menu featuring, of course, our New York-style pizza, gourmet sandwiches and Italian dishes made with family recipes. There is so much more to Marco’s than pizza.
Being part of the community seems important to you. As a business, how do you give back?
Community involvement is so important: We’re stronger together. Regularly, we participate in Dining Out for Life, Dine to Be Kind and the Downtown Welcome Table. We also donate to as many local causes as we can on an ongoing basis, including schools and athletics, and fire department benefits. On the business side, we have been getting produce from the same company based out of the WNC Farmers Market for 23 years, all of our desserts come from local bakeries, and we feature many local beers.
Any plans for the future?
To continue to stay authentic. We hope everyone thrives.