After graduating from USC business school, managing Cafe Nell for a year-and-a-half and managing operations at ChefStable for another two-and-a-half more, Kevin Chambers knew it was time to strike out on his own and run his own place.
Last week, that plan became reality when he officially opened the doors to Marmo Deli and Bar, a well-lit, 30-seat casual Italian joint downtown, just off the MAX line at the corner of SW Morrison Street and 11th Avenue.
Named for the Italian word for marble, the cafe's centerpiece is fittingly a long Carrara marble bar, from which Chambers and his staff serves up about a dozen weekday lunches and weekend lunch and dinner items, including entrée salads, pasta salads, sandwiches served on Fleur de Lys breads, and a trio of sides and desserts, including bruschetta, gelato and cannoli filled to order. The menu was crafted with the help of former Bluehour chef, Thomas Boyce.
"The idea here is to create an approachable, fast lunch spot that's also a great place to hang out at late at night," Chambers says.
For now, though, those late nights are a Friday and Saturday night affair. Chambers explains that he expects the OLCC to sign off on his new permit in about two weeks, allowing him to sell alcohol on weeknights. The permit he has now only lets him sell alcohol on Friday and Saturday nights, which is why he's closing down shop at 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.
Once the agency signs off, Chambers and his staff will offer local craft beers on draft, as well as five red and white wines on tap, plus homemade limoncello and a menu of classic cocktails with an emphasis on Italian spirits like Campari, Tuaca and Disaranno.
He adds that plans are in place to introduce a gluten-free pasta to the menu, as well as a focaccia program, which is aided by the expertise of Boyce's wife, Kim Boyce, the mastermind behind Bakeshop and author of the James Beard Foundation Award-winning cookbook, Good to the Grain.
Chambers expects to introduce extended hours no later than May 29.
Marmo Deli and Bar, 1037 SW Morrison St., Portland. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. In several weeks, Marmo will extend its weekenight hours.