Encinitas entrepreneur invests his dough in pizza/sports pub


After more than a decade away from the restaurant industry, Keith Armstrong is back in the game with a new pizzeria and sports pub.

Schooner Station opened Dec. 7 in the location previously occupied by Today’s Pizza & Salad, at 481 Santa Fe Drive in Encinitas. It’s a go-to spot for people who want to enjoy pizzas, salads, hot sandwiches and beer while watching sporting events on numerous big-screen TVs, and it fills a niche in the local food and entertainment scene.

“I didn’t want to be just another neighborhood pizzeria,” Armstrong said.

But it is his first pizzeria. From 1995 to 2000, he was a co-owner of the Wooden Nickel, a burger-and-fry joint in San Bernardino. He was attending college when he helped start up the restaurant with some friends.

“There was a bar just down the street from Cal State San Bernardino … it was really cheap (to buy),” Armstrong explained.

The venture paid off, as the new eatery became successful and is still in business today.

However, Armstrong eventually sold his share, as his attention began to turn toward newspapers. He became an owner of the Sun Newspaper Group (which included the Carlsbad Sun, San Marcos Sun and Vista Sun) with his then-wife and her family.

After going through a divorce and moving to San Diego in 2010, Armstrong began to realize that he missed the service industry, and began actively seeking ownership opportunities about a year ago.

He went up and down the coast, looking for a freestanding building that was conveniently located near a freeway, in a beach community. When Armstrong saw that Today’s Pizza & Salad was for sale, “I jumped right on it,” he said.

Armstrong took over the restaurant on Dec. 1, and spent nearly a week renovating it before opening it under its new name. He added custom-built furniture to create different types of seating, from high and low tables to community tables, booths and a bar. He also installed 17 flat-screen TVs, including one with a 100-inch drop-down digital screen, to showcase the latest sporting events.

But while he made changes to the interior, Armstrong kept Today’s recipes and its cooks — with some tweaks to the portion sizes. For instance, the individual pizzas were eliminated, and guests can now order by the slice. There are eight varieties, with one that’s always cheese-based and customizable. Those seeking larger pies can select sizes from 14 to 18 inches.

Customers who used to visit Today’s will recognize Schooner Station’s signature dishes, which include the Traditional Meatball Sub, the Raspberry Vinaigrette Walnut Salad and the Pepperoni Pizza, with its New York-style thin and crispy crust.

Nearly all of the items are made from scratch, Armstrong emphasized, from the sauce to the dough. Even the Parmesan on the tables is grated on site. The only exceptions are several of the appetizers, which include the Jalapeño Poppers and the Mozzarella Cheese Sticks.

Brews also play an important role at Schooner Station, which is named for a type of tall beer glass. Armstrong increased the restaurant’s taps from 11 to 24, offering suds from Bud Light and Coors to Ballast Point Brewing Co.’s Sculpin IPA. They’re served in 60-ounce glass pitchers or frosted 18-ounce schooners.

“It’s the coldest beer in town,” Armstrong promised.

It also may be some of the best-priced: Craft brews are $5, Bud Light and Coors are $4, and Pabst Blue Ribbon is $3. Because of the low prices, “we have happy hour all day, every day,” Armstrong joked.

Other beverages on the menu are Gatorade, Red Bull, ginger ale, soda, tea, juices and some cocktails.

Armstrong said future plans for Schooner Station include “opening up” the patio to allow more air and sunlight, presenting themed nights, and expanding the menu.

Meanwhile, “we’re glad to be open and part of the community,” he said.

Schooner Station is indeed making its presence known locally — it recently became a member of the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce, and it also sponsors a local Little League team.

The restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. During the summer, it will extend its hours to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight Friday and Saturday.

For information about Schooner Station Pizzeria & Sports Pub, call 760-753-9700.