By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent
That’s how Scott Brandon always wanted to answer the phone, just as actor Danny Aiello as Brooklyn pizzeria owner Sal did in the Spike Lee movie “Do the Right Thing.”
Since opening Sal’s Famous Pizzeria in Boat Canyon Shopping Center in August, Brandon loves playing out his cinematic fantasy while showcasing his extensive culinary chops.
With his brother Michael, a restaurant planner, and his 22-year-old daughter Nina toiling daily as general manager, the pizza place is a family affair. The hours are long, but Brandon could not be happier with his new neighborhood pizza joint as he forges relationships in the community.
The reference to the iconic movie continues in a hallway lined with dozens of framed headshots, a play on the “wall of fame” in the movie’s pizzeria, Brandon explained. Nina Simone (whom his daughter is named after), Jackie Robinson, Madonna, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, and many others are enshrined.
“In the film, some of the neighborhood kids, who are Black, wanted to know why Sal only displayed photos of Italian-Americans. They felt that patronizing the business as much as they did, they should have representation on the wall. I took the idea and chose to highlight men and women I admire.”
Unlike Aiello’s character in the movie, generosity toward the community is a hallmark of Sal’s. During Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month in Laguna Beach, Brandon will continue his regular food donations to Friendship Shelter and on Dec. 6 will provide lunch for the users of Sally’s Fund transportation services at the Susi Q Senior Center.
As brutal as COVID-19 was and continues to be for his business, especially for staffing, Brandon notes that Sal’s Famous Pizzeria would never have come to be. Furloughed in March 2020 from a job as a corporate chef at a comedy club that churned out 500 meals twice a night, he had ample time to work on new dining concepts in his home kitchen. He struck upon Sal’s Famous Pizzeria and shared the idea with the landlord of his current space, who leaped at the chance to replace Gina’s Pizzeria with a fresh, new eatery.
Sal’s light, airy pizza crust is unique. Brandon describes it as a cross between a focaccia-like Sicilian and a thinner, chewier Roman crust that uses a two-day cold fermentation process that gives the dough a lighter texture. The dough breaks down and acquires an umami-type flavor.
Brandon has been cooking for more than four decades.
“I started as a dishwasher at the original Gina’s Pizza in Corona del Mar. Gina Costa herself used to run me around the kitchen and rule with her iron fist,” he said.
He chased a rock ‘n’ roll dream as singer for the San Francisco band One-Eyed Jacks while working as a line cook, then sous chef for several restaurants including Acquerello, a regional Italian fine-dining restaurant owned by Michelin-star chef Suzette Gresham. Returning to Southern California, Brandon put in 12 years as executive chef at Oysters in Corona del Mar. In 2004, the James Beard Foundation honored him, inviting him to cook at the famed James Beard House in New York City. In 2007, Brandon opened his first restaurant, the Crow Bar + Kitchen, which introduced the gastropub concept to Orange County. His second restaurant was an artisan sausage and craft beer joint in Old Towne Orange called LinX. His third venture will reveal whether Laguna Beach has an appetite for a family-centric pizza place.
“I am so fortunate to absolutely love what I do and the people I get to do it with—especially my daughter Nina,” Brandon said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Sal’s Famous Pizzeria is located at 610 N. Coast Hwy. in the Boat Canyon Shopping Center. Website: salsfamousoc.com
Editor’s Note: McMurray is secretary for the Friendship Shelter Board of Directors.View Our User Comment Policy