If there’s one thing Nate Long knows, it’s that the classics are considered classic for a reason — especially when it comes to food. He believes in the merit of sticking to what works, and then finding a way to make it work even better.
That is the underlying ethos of his newly-opened restaurant Nate’s on Marsh: upgrading tried-and-true contemporary American dishes with an Italian twist.
“I wanted cowboys and Edna Valley,” Long said. “The whole concept around here was taking those classics that we know and elevating them slightly.”
After an extensive renovation, Nate’s On Marsh opened in downtown San Luis Obispo this past fall. Nate’s serves up contemporary American cuisine “with an Italian spirit,” including classic items like caesar salad, cacio e pepe, spaghetti pomodoro and even a burger. Nate Long, a Central Coast native and Cal Poly alumni, owns and manages the restaurant, with Libry Darusman on board as executive chef.
Together, the two worked to create a timeless yet trendy dining experience.
From Business Student to Business Owner
Long is a San Luis Obispo local through-and-through. He not only grew up in San Luis Obispo, but also attended Cal Poly as an agribusiness major. Throughout his twenties, Long worked for a number of companies ranging from large corporate food distributors to up-and-coming restaurants in San Francisco. He moved back to the San Luis Obispo area after deciding he wanted to open and manage a restaurant of his own.
Some people may wonder why Long chose to open an Italian restaurant in such close proximity to other local favorites like Giueseppe’s, Flour House and Buona Tavola.
“We’re just keeping it more streamlined with what has proven to be successful,” Long said. “Plus, none of the other Italian restaurants [in SLO] look like this.”
Prior to opening Nate’s On Marsh, Long conducted extensive market research and came to the conclusion that Italian food was a safe bet for attracting a large, consistent customer base.
Long said that at the end of the day, while San Luis Obispo residents are “beautiful, elegant and amazing,” they are also “cow people” at heart. He chose to lean into the reality that many residents love pasta, steak and red wine, banking on the fact that comfort food sells.
“We know people love Italian food,” Long said. “It’s kind of a safe concept here, but this first restaurant is a springboard and we didn’t want to reinvent any sort of wheel.”
When Long first opened the restaurant’s doors, COVID-19 was still a large concern at the local and worldwide level. Though the pandemic has negatively affected countless restaurants around the world, he felt confident that Nate’s On Marsh could still be successful. As it turns out, he was correct.
Since it’s opening, Nate’s On Marsh has attracted a consistent crowd of diners. He credits the restaurant’s initial success to the fact that both he and his parents grew up locally, and their network of friends, acquaintances and community members made a point to support his business.
Nate’s on Marsh, rather fittingly, is found on Marsh St. in a historic, bright-white building peppered with forest green trim. Inside, the walls are covered with patterned wallpaper, the tables are nestled in between the fully-stocked, solid wood bar and ornate bay windows overlook the outside.
“Green stuck out to me, I think because of where we are and this whole ranch vibe. If you look at any really established barn in the U.S., like Greengate Ranch or even in Kentucky, white and green is a really classic, classic look. So I just took that and I ran with it,” Long said.
Nate’s is full of rustic paintings featuring Central Coast scenery, cowboys and horses that hang in sharp contrast with the modern wallpaper. Jerry Scott, a local artist and long-time friend of Long’s, hand-painted all seven art pieces in Nate’s. According to Long, Scott was the third email he sent out after beginning the renovation process.
Prior to Long’s ownership of the building, Nate’s On Marsh was home to an old-fashioned, Italian joint called Genaro’s. The original owner, Genaro, had been looking to sell the place for over three years when along came Nate.
“It was very geriatric, but not in a bad way… It was just a very mellow vibe,” Long said. “We painted, put on wallpaper, redid the floors, recovered the old seats with green and added the neon sign. It’s amazing what a good paint job does.”
According to Long, he and Genaro got along quite well and, despite Long’s extensive renovation of the building, he kept a few pieces as an homage to the previous owner and customer base.
Creating the Cuisine
When Long first began his mission to open Nate’s On Marsh, his very first hire was Libry Darusman. Brought on board as the restaurant’s executive chef, Darusman was entrusted with bringing Long’s culinary vision to life.
“I met Nate and we did some zoom calls and we vibed right away. The vision was right on where it should be, and the things that were important to me were important to him,” Darusman said.
Darusman created a menu of simple, crowd-pleasing food made with the highest-quality ingredients available.
“Basically what I did was build a menu of my greatest hits, and just kind of rolled it out,” Darusman said.
Darusman was inspired by sourcing ingredients as locally as possible and constantly shifting the menu offerings to accommodate seasonal produce.
“It’s really just about what the farms have available because anything that’s in-season is going to be hands-down better than any other ingredients,” Darusman said. “My passion is food and going to farms and texting farmers to be like, hey, what do you have this week? Like that’s really what drives me,” Darusman said.
Aside from local produce offerings, when creating the menu, Darusman was inspired by the interior design of Nate’s On Marsh itself.
“I just think what sets us apart is the way that Nate designed the front of the house, and how we were able to match it with the food and create that vibe — you know, like cool spaghetti cowboy,” Darusman said. “It’s not pretentious and you can come in to eat three times a week and have something different each time.”
Carly Caroll, industrial technology and packaging junior, dined at Nate’s On Marsh when her parents visited.
“Nate’s has a really interesting and unique atmosphere and the food was divine. I literally ate all of it,” Caroll said. Caroll ordered the cacio e pepe, a traditionally Roman pasta dish featuring a black pepper and pecorino romano cream sauce.
Darusman has a lengthy resume in the cooking world. He worked as a chef in Los Angeles for 20 years, mainly working at fine-dining restaurants and catering companies. His time in Los Angeles involved a multitude of career-defining moments but perhaps most notably, Darusman catered the Oscars, the Emmys and cooked for an American president.
“Something I’m super proud of is that I got to cook for Bill Clinton, who is just such a rad and beautiful person,” Darusman said.
Though Darusman enjoyed his time in Los Angeles, he decided to relocate to San Luis Obispo in order to be closer to farms, wineries and intimate dining spots.
“[SLO] still kind of feels like this undiscovered, little place that people either don’t know about or don’t have the energy to look that far for. I really don’t know what it is, but the central coast, as far as wine goes, even after working in LA for 20 years, is insane,” Darusman said.
Despite the classic, comforting appeal of the menu, Long has other, less-traditional plans for the future.
Long believes that Nate’s On Marsh is just the beginning. He intends to open multiple restaurants in San Luis Obispo, not all of which will be as “safe” as Nate’s. He plans to explore different restaurant concepts that are less familiar in format and style.
“I see the company going to great places. Definitely less traditional restaurant concepts. I see products, I see a lot of things. I’m very excited about what is to come,” Long said.