Business Community

Business spotlight: Marketplace Grill returns at a new location

Posted on November 7th, 2022 By:

Marketplace Grill is back, with the same menu and same friendly owners, but in a very different space.

The Finholm District institution closed in September 2021, after more than 20 years at 8805 North Harborview Drive. Owners Richard and Carlene Lai Fook promised to reopen in a new spot, and they proved true to their word.

The restaurant is now known as Marketplace Grill at the Trolley, reflecting its new home at 3117 Harborview Drive. It re-opened in May, operating on a limited schedule for awhile as the Lai Fooks hired employees and figured out how to make the space work. It’s now open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

It’s a new location, but the same owners and basically the same food. And most importantly for Carlene Lai Fook, the same community.

“It’s not that I love the (restaurant) business so much,” Carlene said. “I love the people so much.” 

Carlene Lai Fook at the Marketplace Grill at the Trolley last week.

Marketplace Grill’s new home

Marketplace’s closure last fall was not Covid-related. As a matter of fact, Carlene said, Marketplace Grill thrived during the pandemic. 

But the building the restaurant operated in changed hands. Rents went up and long-running negotiations between landlord and tenant failed to produce a new long-term agreement. After the busy summer season ended in 2021, the Lai Fooks opted to shut it down and look for a new place. 

The trolley — if you don’t know it, it’s located near Gig Harbor Brewing’s tap room, the Gig Harbor Fly Shop and the Gig Harbor Marina and Boatyard — was an option. Carlene first thought of it as an interim location, but now she’s looking at it as a permanent home.

And it’s won’t be open only seasonally, as many have assumed. They plan to operate year-round, rain or shine or freeze.

To that end, they recently erected outdoor gazebo shelters, covering the picnic table-style seating. (A handful of generous Boatyard employees put the first gazebo together in exchange for free lunch.) Space heaters inside the gazebos will help keep customers warm.

“My goal is to make it a nice back-yard feel,” Carlene said. “Like having friends or family over in your back yard.”

A heated, covered outdoor gazebo provides cover for customers of the Marketplace Grill at the Trolley during the long rainy season.

A Caribbean flair

The Lai Fooks worked at the old Marketplace Grill location since 2000. They purchased the business in 2006, after months of the previous owner encouraging them to do so. At the time, Carlene said, “we knew nothing about building a business. … But I was determined that we could do it.”

They figured it out quickly and Marketplace Grill became a favorite spot for many locals. The menu, then as now, featured American food with a Caribbean flair, reflecting the Lai Fooks’ roots in Trinidad and Tobago.

“People ask if we American-ized Caribbean food. I tell them it’s American food that we Caribbean-ized,” Carlene said.

Popular items include clam chowder and fish and chips, befitting their location in an old fishing village. You can get jerk chicken or jerk pork, Caribbean crab cakes, or paella. A variety of sandwiches, burgers and salads are available. So are scallops, pan-fried oysters and up to two pounds of steamed clams.

Prices range from $11.99 for most of the sandwiches to $20.99 for higher-end fare like Northwest fettuccini or a grilled salmon or halibut dinner.

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Richard Lai Fook prepares food inside the Marketplace Grill at the Trolley.

Marketplace Grill a customer favorite

The new location provides some advantages. The trolley is visible from busy Harborview Drive, which gets tremendous foot traffic in summer months. Boaters at nearby marinas could provide a ready customer base.

A symbiotic relationship has developed with the next-door Gig Harbor Brewing tap room — the Grill serves food but no alcohol, while the tap room serves alcohol but no food.

And plenty of customers from the Finholm District location have been eagerly awaiting the Grill’s reopening. “A lot of our old customers have been finding us,” Carlene said.

Carlene has an abundance of stories illustrating those customers’ loyalty.

There are the folks who helped paint the interior of the old location, free of charge. There’s the customer who floated a loan, interest-free, when the old North Harborview location went through a slower period. She has multiple photos on her phone of people who dropped off bottles of wine or flowers. And not just when they closed, this was a regular occurrence. 

‘I knew you’d take care of my son’

The best story is about a mom whose son went to Harbor Ridge Middle School, near the old North Harborview location. Mom and son stopped in one day, years after he left middle school, and told Carlene a story.

The mom shared that her longstanding instructions to her boy was: If anything ever happened at Harbor Ridge and he couldn’t reach his mom, he was to seek refuge at Marketplace Grill. “ ‘We never told you,’ ” she told Carlene. “ ‘But I just knew you’d take care of my son.’ ” 

Those stories are why the Lai Fooks feel so strongly about Gig Harbor, where they live in addition to operating a business. And it’s why they were so determined to stay in the community. 

“We love Gig Harbor. The people are like family, they treat us so well,” Carlene said. “We only want to do this for Gig Harbor.”

Carlene Lai Fook inside the gazebo that provides covered, heated dining space for customers of the Marketplace Grill at the Trolley.