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Brigantine turns 40; founders reflect on progression

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The first Brigantine Seafood Restaurant will turn 40 on May 20. Tasteful observances are planned in all Brigantine locations, including a "$40 for 40" dinner for two offered Thursdays during May, and the release of a special 40th anniversary bottling of the Brigantine's 2007 Reserve Chardonnay, which earned a silver medal at the recent San Diego International Wine Competition.

When husband and wife team, Mike and Barbara Morton, opened their first Brigantine on Shelter Island in May 1969, little did they know that 40 years later they would be celebrating the anniversary of a 14-unit restaurant company.

Mike and Barbara wore many hats in those early days. Mike pulled shifts as cook, server, host and janitor; Barbara's responsibilities included hostess, cocktail server and bookkeeper. The name "Brigantine" was drawn from a hat. The first Brigantine menu consisted of nine menu items, including a "late-night entrée." On display in the home office are two original menus on round wood planks.

The Brigantine overcame the odds, and in the summer of 1973, the Mortons opened a second Brigantine location in Coronado, followed thereafter by restaurants in Del Mar and Escondido. Today there are Brigantine Seafood restaurants in seven locations throughout the county, including La Mesa, Poway and Eastlake.

In 1982, the Brigantine team decided to take advantage of some in-house culinary talent, opening Miguel's Cocina in the space behind the Coronado Brigantine. The restaurant was an instant success and another Miguel's was opened in the original Brigantine location just two years later. The Shelter Island Brigantine had moved down and across the street to its present location above the marina. In January 2004, the Brigantine family of restaurants opened a third Miguel's Cocina in the Eastlake Village Shopping Center.

Responding to a need for large party space at Miguel's Coronado, Miguelito's Sala de Artes y Comer opened in an adjacent space, across from the historic Hotel Del Coronado in May of 2007. Miguelito's is a one-of-a-kind neighborhood gallery and boutique with two private dining rooms, along with art, gifts, spirits and cuisine influenced by the many cultures of Mexico.

In the late 1990s, Mike and Barbara set out to find the perfect location to open a fine-dining restaurant concept, and in May 1999, Azul La Jolla opened, serving California cuisine on La Jolla's Prospect Street. By 2008, the company's senior leadership team recognized the need to differentiate themselves from the other California cuisine restaurants on the street, at the same time acknowledging an absence of Prime steakhouses in La Jolla Village. Supported by a nearly decade-long reputation for superior service, incomparable food, and some of San Diego's best views of La Jolla Cove and the Pacific shorelines, the group took the leap. Today, the Steakhouse at Azul La Jolla offers San Diego's first steakhouse experience one hundred feet above La Jolla Cove.

Zócalo, whose name is derived from the central square in the heart of Latin American villages, replaced the Old Town Brigantine in the summer of 2002. Born out of an ADA remodel and some out-of-the-box thinking, the location was transformed into a Nuevo Latino dining concept and in 2008, they opened a second location in the 4S Ranch community.

While son Mike Morton Jr. took over the reigns as president and CEO in 2007, Mike and Barb continue to be actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. Mike Sr.'s obligations as chairman have relieved him of janitorial duties, but in addition to overseeing the company, he is very involved in the community. He is a board member and former president of the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association, among many others. As an alumnus of San Diego State University, Mike Morton Sr., along with the Brigantine Family of Restaurants continues to be an active supporter of the SDSU's School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. A number of current and former students are among the more than 1200 people currently employed in Brigantine restaurants.

As vice president of design, Barbara works around the clock directing the company's new construction projects. She is project lead for all remodels and redesigns, including the change in design and concept for the Steakhouse at Azul La Jolla late last year, and the redesign of the original Brigantine in Shelter Island, completed in early 2009.

Keeping the Brigantine tradition in the family, the Morton's four children quite literally grew up in the restaurant business. In addition to company president and CEO, Mike Morton Jr., the Brigantine team includes eldest son, Mark, who worked his way through several restaurant positions before achieving the position of regional general manager. The Morton's daughter, Tori, has also worked in positions throughout the company, and is presently in charge of purchasing for Migeulito's retail division. And the youngest son, Matt, will join the company when he retires from the U.S. Navy later this month.

Hotel Indigo management named

InterContinental Hotels Group announced the appointment of Chris Jones as general manager and Pat McTigue as director of sales and marketing for the Hotel Indigo San Diego. Currently under construction, the boutique hotel is scheduled to open in July 2009.

"Hotel Indigo delivers an upscale yet approachable boutique experience that reflects the character and culture of the neighborhood," said Janis Cannon, vice president, global brand management, Hotel Indigo. "With 20 years of combined hotel experience and more than half of that in the San Diego market working with IHG Brands, Chris and Pat have the necessary operational skills, personalities and enthusiasm to exceed guest expectations and create a hotel that truly becomes part of the community."

"Chris and I are excited to introduce this refreshing new boutique hotel experience to San Diego and present our guest-first service culture," said McTigue. "Our staff will intuitively engage guests and anticipate their needs rather than simply responding. That personalized service coupled with a distinctive, engaging brand experience is sure to win fans of the new Hotel Indigo San Diego."

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