Meeting a celebrity in real life is fraught with uncertainty. Will my mental picture match reality, or are they actually a pompous airhead? I’ve had mixed success; Donald Faison was as charming as his character Turk on the show Scrubs, but Mark Wahlberg (excuse me, Marky Mark) was kind of a butt, although admittedly a funky one. Win some, lose some.
Local celebrities are a different breed. Some eternally chase more widespread recognition. Others, like Gina Marsaglia, are content to ignore the legendary aura that surrounds their name, focusing solely on the work yet to be done. She’s the CEO, president, and co-founder of Pizza Port Brewing Company—an unpretentious giant among giants completely unashamed of her extreme devotion for all-you-can-drink party buses. “People that know me know that is right up my alley,” laughs Marsaglia. “I just love it.”
A Brew Is Born
Pizza Port was established in 1987 as a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop-slash-crash pad for her and her brother Vince. Stories from those early days read like any startup: work, eat, sleep, repeat. “It got a little crazy,” she admits, but Vince still managed to find time to nurse a burgeoning homebrew hobby. With some unused square footage in the original Solana Beach location, the duo added a small homebrew setup and even a DIY surfboard repair station.
“It got a little out of control,” grins Marsaglia. “The health department came in and they’re like, ‘What is this? You cannot be doing this!’”
For a long time, Vince’s brewing hobby was just that: a hobby. But when the Marsaglias tried to get financing for their second location in Carlsbad in order to officially launch a brewing component to their business, the Small Business Association said they had to prove themselves as brewers before they’d give them additional funds. “So that’s what we did,” says Marsaglia. In 1992, Pizza Port became one of the first official breweries/brewpubs in San Diego.
Marsaglia’s success is part right place, right time, part early to market, and part absolute drive. “When I do something, I try not to just half ass it,” she says. She also credits having three children in four years—all while expanding Pizza Port into the empire it is today—with keeping her organized. “I didn’t have time to work on it later, because I had other things that I was doing or other commitments with the kids. So [parenting] really did help me with time management more and [how to] delegate.”
Any parent who has started their own business knows their kids are going to be a part of it. Marsaglia’s are no exception, tagging along every step of the way. Sometimes they even unwittingly participated in beer history; she recounts the time the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson attended a tasting at Pizza Port Solana Beach. “I have a cool picture with Michael Jackson and [my daughter] is on my lap. He’s holding her finger and I’m just like, ‘You don’t even know how cool that is.’”
I’m not sure how she navigates business ownership, parenting her actual children as well as their pet mini pig (!), and the beer world like such a pro. If it’s drinking Swami’s IPA (Marsaglia’s favorite), then clearly I need to up my intake. And maybe get a mini pig.
Stop, Collaborate and Listen
Being a trailblazer in what’s now one of the best beer scenes in the world positioned Pizza Port to take advantage of the uniquely collaborative industry. Marsaglia admits there have been too many collaborations to pick a favorite, but she chuckles when she recalls some of the early ones with other pioneers like Stone Brewing.
“We did BFF: Beer Friends Forever… Greg [Koch, Executive Chairman and co-founder of Stone Brewing] was so funny. He was like, ‘We look really good on the can, but we should probably put Vince and Steve [Wagner, co-founder of Stone] somewhere’. And I said ‘No, that’s my brother and I on the can—you and Steve are in the background!’” She laughs again. “I’ve known Greg for so long that we can just give each other a hard time. That’s when it gets fun, when it gets past the point of the business relationship.”
Koch is one of the few people with a moniker bestowed upon him by the beer community: the Beer Jesus. Marsaglia is another, often referred to as the Godmother of San Diego Craft Beer. I ask her how the unofficial, but pervasive title makes her feel.
“Oh my gosh, it makes me feel old,” she says, laughing. (Side note: we laughed a lot during the interview. It’s awesome when beer royalty has a sense of humor.) “But I’m honored, to be honest. It’s an honor.”
Pizza Port 2020: The Future
Pizza Port now has five locations across Southern California, as well as partnerships with Petco Park and Pechanga Arena San Diego (a.k.a. Sports Arena). Brewpub number six is coming soon to Imperial Beach, and while Marsaglia doesn’t discount the possibility of more after that, she asserts they’ll never stray far from San Diego. “Expanding into new markets doesn’t really make sense, because people want local… and I just love the sleepy little beach towns,” she muses.
Today, Marsaglia makes more top-level decisions than day-to-day operations. But she’s always game to get her hands dirty. “My favorite thing is still making pizzas,” she says. Sounds like a pretty cool mom to me.
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