Marck Benjamin, the owner of Soul Exchange’s Bleu Clarinet, one of Glen Cove’s newest restaurants, said the idea behind the eatery’s name is to “leave whatever it is that you have outside and you exchange it [for] just peace and relaxation.
“This isn’t a bar or a restaurant — it’s a fusion of everything,” Benjamin continued. “It’s something where you can come, open up the laptop and do some work and listen to some good music.”
In July, Benjamin, 49, who’s from Port Jefferson, decided to turn the vacant Wild Ginger restaurant, on School Street, into a place to relax with a drink and listen to music, a place with open mics and karaoke nights. It features Caribbean, Asian, Italian and soul food.
“Glen Cove being a musical city, a lot of people are musicians and artists or talented individuals,” Benjamin said. “They didn’t have a blues joint or a jazz place or just a place to come and do an open mic or show off their talent.”
And Benjamin said he was excited, and blessed, to bring his dream to Glen Cove. “I knew what I wanted,” he said. “I knew what was here. I knew the blessing that was given to me by God. I’m very faithful. And I said, ‘I can’t let this opportunity go.’”
Soul Exchange, a concept created by Benjamin in 2016, first opened in Jamaica, Queens, and two years later he opened a restaurant in Inwood; both now closed. His third restaurant in Glen Cove is his latest and largest restaurant yet.
“If you want to start a business, you have to stay diligent,” Benjamin said. “You’re going to face some downfalls. You’re going to make some sacrifices. You have to go where your heart is and sometimes it hurts, but if you’re doing it for the love, you will benefit.”
He said he doesn’t consider owning and operating the restaurant work, instead calling it his hobby. He is also an environmental health and safety manager at Trans Continental Packaging in Brooklyn. When he retires, he said, he hopes to focus on the restaurant full time.
Asked what piqued his interest in food, Benjamin was quick to say his family. “My mom and her sister are excellent cooks,” he said. “They enjoy seeing different things they can do with food, and using different ingredients from different countries and so forth. That’s something I’d like to see here. Plus, I like to eat.”
The oldest of three siblings, Benjamin grew up in Cambria Heights, Queens, and Floral Park. After graduating from the New York Institute of Technology Old Westbury in 1995, he moved Florida for about 15 years to pursue a career environmental health and safety.
“Here I am,” he said, “back in my own stomping grounds, basically.”
His parents, who have been married for 53 years, he said, are proud of what he and his wife have brought to Glen Cove. “We always wanted to open a restaurant, that was the goal of myself and my wife,” Benjamin said. “We wanted to bring something different.”
Local elected officials and business leaders came to the Soul Exchange’s Bleu Clarinet’s grand opening on Sept.16. State Sen. James Gaughran presented Benjamin with a proclamation.
Everyone who attended was welcoming and genuine, he said. And he’s been a “sponge,” he added, when exchanging ideas with members of the local business community.
“The community has definitely been welcoming,” he said. “Everyone has been coming in. They’ve been raving about our food, and they love everything we do. And I’m happy we’re here. We set a foundation, and we’re here to stay.”
Patricia Holman, president of the Glen Cove Downtown Business Improvement District, said she was excited that the restaurant had joined the community. “We just finished our dinner at the Bleu Clarinet, and it was great,” Holman said last Friday night. “We had the oxtail dinner with collard greens, rice and peas, the jerk chicken wings, and my daughter had an amazing burger.”
The restaurant’s chef, who goes by Mr. Take Out, said that he was excited about bringing a fusion of flavors to Glen Cove. “I’m very well rounded,” he said. “I do soul food, American comfort food, Midwestern, but also I have skill sets in Italian food, Asian food, Thai food, Japanese infused food and also Jamaican food as well.” His favorite offerings are Cajun pasta and shrimp and grits.
“Things are slowly beginning to open up,” Benjamin said, “and we have something for people to … get out of the house and enjoy themselves.”