Twenty-five years ago, Oggi’s Sports Brewhouse Pizza got its start in Carmel Valley. Soon after, a second location opened in Carmel Mountain Ranch, followed by one in Encinitas. Since then, the Hadjis’ family pizzeria has now grown to include 15 restaurants, including the newest in Barstow and one in Glendale, Arizona.
They are the official pizza of the San Diego Chargers and on Sundays, the Carmel Valley location, now owned by franchisees Ryan and Janis Deady, becomes a Charger watch party complete with giveaways.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, Oggi’s transformed to “Little Columbus” as it serves as the official game watching location for Ohio State alumni, even hosting San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, noted Ohio sports fan and Ohio State alumni, for the Buckeyes’ exciting win over Michigan.
As part of its 25th anniversary celebration, Oggi’s has selected 25 charities to donate to throughout the month of December. Charities include San Diego Veterans for Peace, San Diego Center for Children, Miracle Babies, Paul’s Senior Center and Home of Guiding Hands.
“We feel so fortunate as a family to have this restaurant chain and to have it grow to where it is today and to have the ability to raise money and give back,” said Estella Ferrera, Oggi’s vice president.
Oggi’s was founded by Ferrara’s father, George Hadjis, and his brother, John, in August of 1991. They were two guys looking to start something different after more than 20 combined years working in the technology industry. While they had no restaurant business experience, they settled on developing a high-end pizza concept. The San Clemente residents looked everywhere for the perfect location and picked Carmel Valley as they believed the neighborhood had the most potential for growth.
“We opened in 1991, which was during a major recession,” said Ferrara of the restaurant, which was originally named Stuft Pizza. “It was hard. We’re a Greek family and being that means we don’t give up. Our family stuck together and we just worked so hard and made sure we got through it. It took years, but we did.”
Ferrera said her father and uncle had a lot of fun with the Carmel Valley restaurant in those early days, just trying to get the word out. They did silly things like pretending to be customers and walking out into Carmel Country Plaza proclaiming that the pizza they just ate was the best they’d ever had. When then-President Bill Clinton came to visit Coronado in the early 1990s, they loaded their four delivery trucks, which at the time had a giant light-up telephone on top, and drove the fleet to Coronado to “feed the president,” ending up on the local news.
Ferrera was a teenager when the family opened up Oggi’s in Carmel Valley and helped out with her younger brother and older cousin, working in the back or at the cash register. She went off to college and eventually came back to work for the family business 15 years ago.
The key to Oggi’s success has been its constant evolution, which began in 1995, just a few years after it opened.
“We decided to gut the center of our restaurant and air-lift in a micro-brewery,” Ferrera said, which people thought was a little crazy at the time , given that the restaurants were only about 3,200 square feet — but they were set on differentiating themselves.
Oggi’s was essentially one of the pioneers of the craft-beer movement in San Diego, starting to brew its California Gold blonde and Duck Dive hefeweizen.
The next step was guiding the restaurant into more of a sports theme, adding multiple TVs for game-watching and partnering with local sports radio stations.
In 2001, they hosted a contest on TV and radio to rename the pizzeria and brewery. Of all the names they collected, Oggi’s clicked — the Italian word for “today” went along with the freshness of the high- quality food, beer and sports they served up.
With seven locations open at the time, Oggi’s partnered with the San Diego Chargers and San Diego Padres in 2003 and Oggi’s pizza was served exclusively in their stadiums — it was a huge, exciting step for the small chain, Ferrara said.
Over the last 14 years, Oggi’s has served as the official pizza for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes and the exclusive pizza of Angels Stadium. In 2016, they remain the official pizza of the Chargers and the Angels.
Oggi’s began its partnership with Charger running back LaDainian Tomlinson shortly after he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2006. While there was a break when he moved onto the New York Jets, for the last two years, LT has served as Oggi’s corporate spokesperson.
“Our partnership with LaDainian is special,” Ferrara said. “We work together to raise money for our communities because he believes in giving back as much as we do.”
Oggi’s has participated in several events that raise funds for Tomlinson’s Touching Lives Foundation and last year Oggi’s also came up with a seasonal beer in LT’s name. Tomlinson 21 Session IPA, an easy drinking IPA with a decreased alcohol level and lighter taste, is now offered year-round with a portion of every beer sold going to LT’s foundation.
Every 10 years, Oggi’s goes through a complete re-modernization of its concept, updating both the look and the menu. The Carmel Valley location, which has expanded its patio over the last few years, will soon be getting new flooring, paint and other upgrades.
The last evolution five years ago was an adjustment to the name, Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Company. Ferrera said the name no longer felt authentic as the Mission Valley and Carmel Mountain Ranch locations were the only ones that still had breweries on site — the rest were pulled out of the restaurants to increase seating and they now have a central brewery in San Clemente. Twenty years in, they changed the name to Oggi’s Sports Brewhouse Pizza as that is just what they are — a place for sports, beer and pizza.
The ever-evolving and large menu now includes a kale chopped salad, quinoa sliders, short rib nachos and loaded pizza fries. New dessert items include “Cinnaknots”, Oggi’s handmade dough fried in the beignet style and filled with cream cheese icing, and the Black Magic Beer Float, decadent coffee ice cream floating in Oggi’s Black Magic Stout beer.
“My philosophy is if you rest on your laurels, you’ll be gobbled up by the competition,” Ferrara said. “We’re constantly evolving to be better and better and better.”
Oggi’s is located in Encinitas at 305 Encinitas Blvd. For more information, visit encinitas.oggis.com.