Restaurant years are kind of like dog years: Given the expected lifespan of a restaurant, each 12-month period is probably the equivalent of several calendar years. Hats off, then, to Poco’s Bow Street Cantina, in Portsmouth, which is now celebrating its 30th year in business—an impressive achievement in the industry. John Golumb and Marlisa Geroulo, the married couple who own Poco’s, have been involved since the early years, and the winning formula has stayed pretty much the same: plentiful, tasty, Tex-Mex food with a New England accent, bolstered by margaritas aplenty and, in season, a lovely view from the riverside deck. We recently caught up with Marlisa and chatted about what’s changed in 30 years—and what hasn’t.
Why open a Mexican restaurant in Portsmouth in 1982?
Ed Stringham, the original owner, had just read in the Wall Street Journal that Mexican food was the next big trend. He had always wanted to open a restaurant, and he did Mexican because of that article. My husband got involved in 1988. He was in sales and he traveled a lot; he’d eat out at Mexican restaurants all over the East Coast and he’d bring back ideas and information from a diner’s perspective. He got friendly with the owners and in ’88 they asked him to become a partner. Since 1995, we’ve been the sole owners.
What did you do before joining Poco’s?
I was a mechanical engineer and a speech and language pathologist. It was my husband who made the decision to be in the restaurant business. I was his wife, so I went along for ride. After a number of years, we decided it would be good for one of us to know the kitchen. So I went to culinary school and became a pastry chef. I was drawn to pastry, maybe because of my background in mechanical engineering; I was drawn to the science. I have worked in the kitchen at Poco’s, and I would if they needed me again. But we have a fabulous staff right now, so it’s not necessary.
What are some of the green initiatives you’ve taken with Poco’s?
In 1992, we were the first restaurant in Portsmouth to come up with idea of recycling. The only way we could do it economically was to get three others to do it, which we did. In 2008, we started composting. We talked all the restaurants in the local area into composting, and we made all our to-go containers compostable. It’s added to the bottom line, but it’s the right thing to do. That’s who we are, and that’s what we want our business to be.
How many kinds of margaritas do you make?
We have 25 different margaritas. The Classic and the Cadillac have been our big sellers, but we just put on a Skinny Margarita that has blown everything out of the water. And you’d be surprised how many frozen margaritas get sold in winter.
What’s the key to your longevity?
Location is key, as it is in a lot of things. Staffing, listening to customers, consistency, and food quality. Good old-fashioned luck. And definitely hard work.
Poco’s Bow Street Cantina
37 Bow Street