It’s no overstatement to say that Marlena, the affordable prix fixe restaurant perched on the side of a hill in Bernal Heights, has been one of San Francisco’s culinary breakout stars of the past three years. The restaurant moved into the former Hillside Supper Club space in August 2020, a time looked back on now as peak pandemic, and served takeout sandwiches before dipping a toe into indoor dining in November — only to be shut down along with every other restaurant in the city due to a surge in COVID cases. It inched open again for outdoor, then indoor, dining throughout the spring, before earning a coveted Michelin star in fall 2021.
Through it all, husband-and-wife chef team David Fisher and Serena Chow Fisher have been at the helm, even naming the business in honor of David’s late mother. Working with Ryan Cole from the Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group, they steered the restaurant through the tumult of the pandemic, then closed it for renovations last summer, before moving back in the fall.
In short: it’s been a wild rollercoaster of a run and an undeniable success. But as of Friday, June 30, the Fishers say they want off the ride.
The couple confirmed to Eater SF on Friday that they are parting ways with Marlena effective immediately and made the announcement in an Instagram post on Friday night. “It’s just turning into this thing that we don’t want to be a part of anymore,” David told Eater SF in a recent conversation.
Despite being the faces of the lauded restaurant for the past three years, the couple explains they do not own the business; according to the restaurant’s liquor license, the owner is Bouillon LLC, which is managed by Stephane Roulland, who’s also listed as CEO. According to the Fishers, their relationship with the owner has deteriorated to the point that they’re unable to continue working at the restaurant. In the post, they cite “a conflict with the owner of Marlena over differing visions of hospitality and integrity” as the reason for the departure.
In an email to Eater SF on Monday, July 3, Roulland says the chefs gave him notice of their intention to resign two months before the June 30 announcement. “We’ve had ample time to prepare for the new leadership,” the email reads in part, “and we are planning to make an announcement very soon. We wish Serena and David the best for their new project.”
In the meantime, according to the restaurant website, Marlena will close for the month of July with plans to reopen on August 1 “with a new leadership.” It remains to be seen how the restaurant will change as it carries on without the chef couple who earned it a place in the Michelin Guide. In August 2021, the guide praised how the couple “manage both the savory and sweet side of things” with “precise technique and subtle yet imaginative use of ingredients.”
As previously reported, the Fishers and Cole are already working on a new restaurant that will take over the former Gardenia’s space at 1963 Sutter Street. The liquor license lists the business name as 7 Adams, but the trio tells Eater SF the vision for the restaurant is still taking shape. Cole, who was brought on as a consultant during Marlena’s earliest stages, hasn’t been a part of that restaurant team since April.
Update: July 5, 2023, 9:15 a.m.: This post has been updated to include a comment from Marlena restaurant owner Stephane Roulland.