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Mike and Barb Morton Owners, The Brigantine Restaurant Corp.

By Gail Stoorza-Gill

At the Point Loma home where Mike and Barbara Morton have lived since 1975, Mike Morton hoists and lowers the American flag daily on his 30-foot flagpole. Right in front of the house, Barbara Morton is building a large “community garden,” and neighbors and friends can help plant, cultivate and harvest. Floyd, the yellow lab, has roaming rights both in and out of the house and is often spotted crossing the cul de sac to visit the neighbors. Children’s toys brighten the Morton’s driveway and fill the home where eight grandchildren regularly come and go. The Morton’s four children live nearby.

Q. Your 40th wedding anniversary and 40th anniversary of the company coincide. How did all this start?

A. Mike: We met at Point Loma High many years ago. Occasionally we had the money to dine at the Chart House, a restaurant we greatly admired for its food quality.
Barb: And that same quality flowed over to their architecture, interiors and, most of all, to their staff. We talked of how much fun it would be to try to do something like that.
Mike: I thought the restaurant business was an easy one where we would make nothing but money. Boy, were we naïve. We got a loan from my mother, which was the only way we could get started. It was our determination to pay back that loan that kept us going for the first two years.
Barb: I served as the cocktail waitress and Mike cooked, washed dishes and cleaned up after closing. We did everything and lived on tips.

Q. Where did the inspiration for your menu items come from?

A. Barb: I had a beef stew recipe. We always had that on the menu as well as a couple of other easy items. Our first Brigantine was near the Point Loma fishing fleet, where we watched fishermen hauling in their beautiful swordfish catches and we decided to become experts at swordfish. To this day, swordfish is one of the most popular items on the menu; beef stew disappeared a long time ago.
Mike:  We cultivated our clientele slowly but surely. At that time, there was very little “Downtown,” and word got out about this restaurant in Point Loma. Pilots, flight attendants and other folks who worked for PSA started coming in.  That was a turning point for us.

Q. What kind of company is it today?
A. Barb: It’s still very much a family company, but we are very proud to have added several new dining concepts beyond the Brigantine. We have Miguel’s Mexican Cocinas, Zocalo’ in Old Town, Miguelito’s Sala de Artes y Comer and the new Steakhouse at Azul in La Jolla — 12 different locations. We have nearly 1,000 team members serving 1.2 million meals each year. Our son, Mike, is now the president and our other children are involved as regional manager, general manager and handle a variety of other executive functions. We’re so proud of all of them.

Q. Your fans talk of your well trained and loyal staff. Tell me about them.

A. Mike:  Several have been with us since we first started, like Eileen Montgomery, general manager at the Coronado Brigantine, and Pat Walsh who started as a dishwasher. He couldn’t wash dishes very well so we kept promoting him. Over the years we’ve employed 10 kids who all came from the same family.

Q. You’re also known for the many contributions you make to the communities you serve, as well as your many civic endeavors. How do you find the time?

A. Mike:  With the children now practically running the business, I’ve had time to enjoy other endeavors. I’ve been fortunate to serve as president of my Rotary Club and commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club. Barbara, whose job grew from waitressing to handling interior design, maintenance and many other things for the restaurants, now serves on the Point Loma Association, works for the La Playa unit of Celebration of Champions and spends time with the grandchildren and her new vegetable garden.
We have always given as much as possible to the communities in which we have restaurants and these contributions will always be a part of our corporate mission.

Gail Stoorza-Gill is an independent marketing consultant and serves on the boards of Security Business Bank of San Diego and
voiceofsandiego.org.Send her your ideas for prospective people to feature at The Right Questions, (619) 223-4815 or at gailstoorza@cox.net

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