Back in the late Sixties, the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach was considered San Diego’s answer to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district becase of a steady invasion of peace/love/brotherhood-espousing “hippies.” A decade and a half later, the tiny commercial zone has once again been taken over, but this time by cheese/pepperoni/sausage-hawking parlors.
When Luigi’s Pizza Grotto opened on Newport Avenue twenty years ago, its only competition in the pizza market was Poma’s Italian Delicatessen around the corner on Bacon Street, which had opened a year earlier as the first Italian restaurant in Ocean Beach’s recent history. More than a decade later they were joined by a Square Pan Pizza outlet, halfway in between the two on the southwest corner of Bacon and Newport. For years the three coexisted peacefully, each catering to its own clientele. But in the last three years, three other pizza places have opened for business on the same two-block stretch, and one in particular – Giant New York Pizza, directly across the street from Luigi’s – is generally credited by rival pizza shop owners as getting the Ocean Beach pizza wars going. There, $1.18 buys a “New York”-style pizza slice measuring more than a foot in length. The newcomer, open just over a year, began attracting most of the beach area pizza crowd, and business at the other establishments fell off “from four or five years ago when we used to have a fleet of cars driving up all day long,” says Luigi’s Skip Zeller. So Luigi’s started offering large pizza slices of its own for only one dollar. Five months ago, however, Square Pan closed its doors and the building was sold to Mike Mansour, who owns the market across the street. Originally, Mansour says, he wasn’t planning on serving pizza, “but since it had already been a pizza place, we weren’t really adding one.” Calling his new shop Newport Pizza and Restaurant, Mansour began concentrating on other menu items such as Greek gyros sandwiches, but within weeks had begun offering “mini-pizzas” roughly the same size as the other two establishments’ slices, he says – for ninety-nine cents. Luigi’s promptly responded by not charging customers sales tax on its dollar slices, choosing to pay the state government’s due out of its own cash register.
And the last shot has not been fired. Though the other three pizza places nearby – Rebel Bakers, Pompei Vesuvio Restaurant, and Poma’s – continue to sell only whole pizzas, another shop has set up near the battlefield. Al’s Corner, on Sunset Cliffs and West Point Loma Boulevard, changed its name in April to Al’s Pizza and now sells slices for 99 cents.