10 years under the apron, ready to expandSergio’s eatery | TheUnion.com

10 years under the apron, ready to expandSergio’s eatery

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

To know Sergio and Lena Martignago is to love them — or so say their longtime customers. That’s why their plan to expand and relocate their restaurant, Sergio’s, has been met with collective enthusiasm.

Soon to celebrate their 10th year in business, the Martignagos first opened their doors in November 2002 in the cozy Mill Street space in Grass Valley that had once been home to small food establishments like Heavenly Espresso and Locos Burritos.

After a rocky start — which included having to sell their car to meet expenses — Sergio Martignago says a review published in The Union changed the course of their lives.

“That launched us,” he said. “We were just barely in the black, but then business just took off. We’ve never looked back.”

With a pool of loyal customers continuing to grow each year, Martignago now says he is well-positioned to fulfill his long-held vision of expanding his business to include more seating, a larger menu and additional support staff.

When Karma Coffee closed its doors down the street, Martignago jumped at the opportunity, and plans are now in the works to move from 154 Mill St. to 109 Mill St. in spring of 2013.

“The new 1,700-square-foot place will have seating outdoors with heaters and 45 seats indoors,” said Martignago. “We will also have an open kitchen, wine bar and enough room for live music. It’s very exciting.”

Martignago began working in the restaurant business in upstate New York. In 1975 he moved to the U.S. from Argentina and stayed with relatives, who got him a job.

“I wanted to learn English,” he said. “I thought I would only be here two years.”

Now he’s been here so long that he and his brother — who also lives in the U.S. — end up speaking English to each other on the phone, he said, with a laugh.

Martignago’s appreciation for food from around the world started with his parents, who moved from Italy to Argentina after World War II. He and Lena, who is originally from Russia, go back every few years to visit Sergio’s parents. The couple was married in 2002 and opened Sergio’s soon after.

Now their vision of opening a modest restaurant with affordable, good food has far exceeded their initial goal, Sergio said, and his customers couldn’t be more supportive.

“I eat here two or three times a week — every time I’m in town,” said Penn Valley resident Sue Longan. “Sergio knows what my favorite dishes are. In fact, I only call him when I’m not coming. I love the chicken salad on romaine and my friend always has the salmon — and I thought I was in a rut!”

In addition to cooking and serving, these days Sergio and Lena’s days are filled with building plans, permits and searching for the perfect future staff.

“I’ve always loved sharing my passion for food with my customers,” Martignago said. “It’s exciting to now be able to do that much more.”

To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email cfisher@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4203.

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