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California

San Diego Port Commission votes to oust iconic waterfront restaurant

Anthony’s Fish Grotto

Diners at Anthony’s Fish Grotto have an unobstructed view of San Diego Bay and distant Point Loma. 

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

The San Diego Port Commission voted Tuesday to oust the iconic Anthony’s Fish Grotto from its waterfront location and replace it with a restaurant promising a more appealing appearance, an upgraded menu and more rent.

The commission voted 4 to 2 to authorize the staff to begin negotiations with the Brigantine restaurant group for a 40-year lease on the site on North Harbor Drive.

Port District staff had recommended Brigantine over Anthony’s and a third finalist, Sunroad Enterprises, whose partners  have successful restaurants throughout the region, including the Gaslamp Quarter.

Commission Chairman Dan Malcolm said that by all comparisons -- design, rent, public access, upgraded service -- the Brigantine won the competition.

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“Their project was, by all objective standards, better than the others,” Malcolm said.

But Craig Ghio, chief executive of Anthony’s and grandson of the founder, said the Port Commission and its staff ignored public support for Anthony’s and its decades-long tradition as San Diego’s “most famous restaurant.”

“The port is just another public agency that doesn’t listen to the public,” he said.

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Like Anthony’s, Brigantine is owned by a prominent San Diego family. The Morton family operates a dozen restaurants in the region, Brigantine Seafood and Miguel’s Cocina.

Mike Morton Jr., chief executive of Brigantine, said he hopes to get all the needed building permits in advance so that the existing building can be demolished soon after Anthony’s lease expires and construction can begin. Construction will take several months.

“We’re very excited,” said Morton. “We want to activate the waterfront.”

Anthony’s Fish Grotto has been part of the waterfront since the end of World War II. The family opened a 16-seat diner near the then-ferry landing in 1946 and moved the much-larger restaurant to its current location in 1965, when it was given a 52-year lease.

Anthony’s lease expires in Jan. 31, 2017. Ghio said he anticipates running the restaurant until the lease expires. The family also runs an Anthony’s restaurant in La Mesa.

The Brigantine proposal included a promise of a $13-million-plus construction project to include a two-story, multi-restaurant facility, a public viewing area and improved docking for boats.

The Brigantine also promised to pay between $1.5 million and $2 million more in rent to the Port District over a decade than the Anthony’s and Sunroad bids.

Although Anthony’s has long been dubbed a San Diego landmark, the restaurant in recent years has been seen by the Port District as financially underperforming.

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The Port District staff, in recommending Brigantine, noted that its owners have a record of taking underperforming restaurant sites and improving them.

Twitter: @LATsandiego

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