Co-founder of iconic San Diego restaurant dies

SAN DIEGO – The last of the four co-founders of the landmark San Diego restaurant Anthony’s Fish Grotto, died Monday.

Anthony A. Ghio, co-founder of Anthony’s Fish Grottos (U-T file)

Anthony Ghio passed away in his home in La Jolla at the age of 97, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune

“He had an incredible sense of business integrity,” said Ghio’s nephew, Craig Ghio, who worked alongside his uncle for 40 years. “During his tenure as CEO, there wasn’t ever one account that ever got stiffed. There weren’t late payments, there weren’t defaults … It was just that whole, ‘If you owe it, you pay it’ philosophy. It’s how he ran things.”

Fresh out of the U.S. Navy after World War II, Ghio in 1946 joined other members of his family to assist his mother in opening the first restaurant in San Diego that served seafood only.

The original site at the old downtown ferry landing was tiny — just 30 feet by 30 feet, with 17 stools and two tables seating four people each — but proved to be an instant hit.  Locals lined up to get a taste of the menu items prepared by Catherine “Mama” Ghio, a determined woman who zealously guarded the family’s secret light-batter recipe that gave the seafood at Anthony’s a distinctive flavor.

The restaurant was named for Mama Ghio’s grandfather in Italy and for St. Anthony, the patron saint of fishermen.

Mama Ghio and son Tod ruled the kitchen and when he wasn’t waiting on customers, Anthony manned the cash register. Within a month of the restaurant’s debut, Roy Weber, the husband of Anthony’s sister, Adel, joined the business.

Within five years, the original restaurant moved to a larger space that was built on pilings on San Diego Bay at 1360 N. Harbor Drive.

Eventually, Anthony’s grew to become San Diego’s largest family-owned food service operation, with four retail markets and seven restaurants that employed 510 people and racked up $22 million in annual sales in 1994.

In January 2017, the mainstay on N. Harbor Drive closed its doors to comply with San Diego Unified Port District lease requirements and was replaced by Portside Pier, a group of restaurants by the Brigantine chain.  Anthony’s Fish Grotto in La Mesa remains open.