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Gina Calder: The Beauty of Pizza!

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If you have not been to Michael’s Pizza and Gina’s Café at 2300 West Alpine Avenue in Stockton, California, what are you waiting for? Owner Gina Calder will warmly welcome you, and she has an amazing menu of mouth-watering delectable dishes from which to choose. In other words, you will have to visit multiple times in order to appreciate all the flavors that await your palate.

Michael’s Pizza has been a fan favorite since it first opened its doors in 1978. It was founded by Michael Calder and has changed operational hands to Gina, who purchased the restaurant in 2009. Gina had worked with Michael for 20 years prior to becoming the owner, learning all aspects of the trade during that time. She also opened Gina’s Café in 2001, inspired by the need for what it had to offer the neighborhood.

“This cafe idea started out just as a place to get yogurt and coffee and has evolved into a full breakfast menu,” noted Gina, who has continued to enhance the ongoing traditions of providing guests with some of the best foods made with the freshest ingredients available, procured locally whenever possible. While the yogurt machines have since been removed, Gina purchased a grill and more or less “went for it,” as she said, to make her café a reality. “It’s worked out and it’s fun,” she smiled. “We have had regulars request custom orders and it has grown from there. This is essentially one restaurant with two kitchens, and we recently remodeled to include a full bar.”

The Learning Curve
Born and raised in Manteca, Gina began working for Michael in 1989, tending to the cash register, the books and training new hires. “I sort of worked my way up that way,” she noted. When she was given the opportunity to purchase the restaurant, Gina did not hesitate. Her ambitions were on full throttle and she was ready to apply all the experience she had acquired in the years prior and put it to work. Her energy is seemingly endless and is elevated by a strong and obvious passion to be of service to others.

“I am here every day, whether six hours, 12 hours or just as needed,” expressed Gina, who also honed her skills as owner of a French Bistro in San Francisco from 2014 to 2019, navigating between that place and her Stockton business each week as needed. With such exciting restaurant endeavors to her name, one might assume Gina is the consummate chef. However, she dismisses that idea with a spirited laugh. “I love to cook and am a foodie, but I am not a chef,” she emphasized. When pressed to reveal her favorite pizza at Michael’s, she replied, “I love the Caprese pizza and the triple mushroom pizza, which is a part of one of my Bistro recipes, made with a mushroom risotto topped with black truffle oil.”

Transforming Challenges into Opportunities
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Gina never wavered from the helm of her ship. Even though the waters were rocky at times, she successfully navigated them by pivoting as needed to keep her business afloat. “It was a unique time, as no one knew what to expect,” she recalled. “I did not want to have to lay off any of my employees.”

Fortunately, Gina never had to do what she dreaded. While she temporarily closed her café to the degree that breakfast was no longer served inside at that time, orders of a different nature began to flow in. “One company ordered 100 breakfast burritos each week for its employees,” Gina marveled. “Plus, people still wanted baked goods.”

Gina emphasized she is a silver linings kind of person in that she always strives to see the positive in every situation, no matter how dire it may seem at the time. “Bad situations give me the opportunity to make me a better business owner,” she noted. “This past year and a half has taught me a lot about my business and that I can deliver to areas we previously thought were too far. We broadened our delivery area, then, kind of by accident.”

The word “pivot” became Gina’s go-to word when the pandemic began. She wasn’t thinking in the broad strokes of evolving or changing, but merely adjusting as needed to keep things going as smoothly and as uninterrupted as possible. She currently has 48 employees and has actually had to expand her roster. “I have a great team and am beyond blessed with my management team,” Gina said. “Yes, we have had struggles and have endured our ups and downs, but I am so lucky to have the team I have.”

Away From the Grill
When she’s not at work, Gina enjoys time with family and friends. An active and healthy lifestyle is always part of the equation, which translates to running, kickboxing, days at the beach and cheering on her favorite baseball teams, the Giants and the Yankees. She also enjoys going to concerts and is a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen.

When asked how she manages to do all she does day after day, one can already tell it is the passion for what she does that keeps her going, and Gina credits not only her amazing staff but the surrounding community as well. “I am very involved with the community,” she expressed. “I serve on the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce and for Pixie Woods. I am also a commissioner for the Parks and Recreation Department of Stockton. The community has always been behind me, so I feel it important for me to support them in return. Stockton is a good city and I am lucky to do business here.”

What’s Next on Gina’s Menu?
As for her future endeavors, Gina’s creative wheels never seem to stop spinning. Could there be more restaurants on the horizon both near and far? “While I may not own them, I may be involved in a consulting capacity,” she imagined, well on her way to expanding her professional menu.

Until then, be sure to stop by and grab a delicious breakfast or a savory slice of pizza. Your taste buds will thank you and you are guaranteed to make new friends in the process. The café opens at 6:00 a.m. on weekdays and at 7:00 a.m. on the weekends. Michael’s Pizza is open every day from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. or so. “It all kind of depends on the crowd,” expressed Gina.

With the way things are going, there will always be a crowd at Michael’s Pizza and Gina’s Café.