Gina’s Pizza Q & A
Gina’s Pizza is a local hit fueled by tasty family recipes and a love for cooking. – By Hayley Toler | Photo by Dondee Quincena
Growing up, Andrew Costa’s mother cooked large Italian meals for friends, family and neighbors. After spending 10 years living in Italy discovering his love of organic and locally grown food, it only seems natural that 37 years later, Andrew and his kin are continuing the legacy of serving the community wholesome, handmade pizza straight from the imagination of his Sicilian-born mother. Gina’s now boasts seven locations in Newport, Laguna, Costa Mesa and Irvine (ginaspizza.com). Laguna Beach Magazine recently sat down with Andrew to talk about the inspiration behind this successful family business.
LBM: How did your family start Gina’s Pizza?
AC: Our family lived in Corona del Mar, and my mom loved to cook for everybody. One man who knew my mom and her cooking owned a shopping center in Corona del Mar and invited her to open a restaurant in a little hole in the wall that had been empty for a while. It turned out that was what my mom had always wanted to do and so that is how she started Gina’s Pizza in 1975. She had tons of experience feeding people, but no experience in the business side of the restaurant. I think our cash register was a cardboard box, but the restaurant was an extension of her whole delightfulness of feeding the neighborhood.
LBM: When did you know that your mom’s cooking was distinct?
AC: One day when I was in second grade, I had my first friend, Stevie, over for dinner. When we started to eat, Stevie’s eyes were huge. For our family, every meal started with a big salad, bread and lots of vegetables that were braised or baked like eggplant, peppers or tomatoes. We always had a primo and segundo meal, so then we had pasta and then a meat dish like chicken, beef or pork. The next day, Stevie was telling everybody that my family eats like they’ve never eaten before, and I didn’t understand what he was talking about because having a lot of good food was normal for me.
LBM: What are your earliest memories of food?
AC: My mom came from rural Sicily and grew up in a farm-oriented environment, and what was always real about my mom was her idea of food, of eating. Our family would drive around on Sundays, and if my mom saw a field she would pull over, go out to the field and would pick wild herbs and bring them back to the car. Passersby would stop and try to give us money, not understanding that the herbs we picked were better than anyhting in the market.
LBM: What are some of your favorite items on the Gina’s menu?
AC: My favorite thing on the menu is the Biggaslice, but when it comes to pizza, our Bianca, a white pizza with crispy bacon, is one I really like. My favorite toppings are meatballs, roasted crimini mushrooms and fresh basil or arugula.
LBM: What makes Gina’s stand out from other pizza places?
AC: Without labels, I think my mom was definitely an organic, comfort-food type of cook. To honor my mom’s way of seeing food, we’ve always baked fresh ingredients in the DNA of Gina’s. We make the dough and sauce everyday, proof the dough for 48 hours and use highly developed dough from fresh yeast, rather than making pizza from frozen dough.
LBM: Where do you see Gina’s in the future?
AC: Our North Laguna location we’ve known for some time has a lot of deliveries and carry-outs, but it has not really been a sit-down place as we had hoped, so we are going to go back to the format of it being a carry-out and delivery store, cutting the size of the location in half. We are also implementing eco-friendly delivery service, using electric bicycles to deliver pizza in our new Newport and South Laguna locations by this summer.
LBM: Did you have any hardships when you started getting involved in the restaurant?
AC: Because my mom made everything from memory, the day finally came where I told my mom we had to write her creations down. So I asked my mom questions; for instance, how much olive oil was in the sauce, and she just showed me her thumb and said, “this much oil.” I didn’t know what that meant. So she put her thumb inside the pot and poured the oil until it the pot filled up the length of her thumb. It took a long time for me to honor the way she did everything from peeling garlic to making the dough. Even today, 37 years later, we are still doing things the same way. LBM