In 32 years of marriage, Doug and Kay Merino said they faced every business challenge together with the mindset that you’re not really working if you love what you do.
So, for their newest venture, pizza was an easy choice.
“I love pizza,” Kay Merino said. “Quite honestly, I think it should be placed into a food group.”
The Merinos opened Maverick’s Pizza Feb. 1 in a Main Street building they have been renovating for the past three years. The couple and business partner Rodney McConkey purchased the building in 2017 and despite the horrifying conditions of the building, were able to restore it to create low-income housing on the top floors and business spaces in the bottom. Twister Donuts opened in the first completed space in August 2018. That business is owned by a private individual who leases the space. What appealed to the business partners about bringing Twister to the space is the same reason the Merinos decided to open Maverick’s Pizza in the second completed spot: location on a busy street and proximity to local businesses and Centralia College.
A grand opening was held on Feb. 1 and had what the Merinos called an overwhelming response from the community. They said they have had customers who have told them their pizza is the best they’ve tasted, or the best in town.
“We’ve been getting a steady flow of customers and we’ve gotten some great feedback from them,” Kay Merino said.
Maverick’s Pizza is a true family business for the Merinos. All of the pizza recipes are straight from Kay Merino and besides Doug and Kay, their son-in-law’s nieces, Kayla, Kaitlyn and Karley Bornstein of Centralia, are the only other employees.
Even the name Maverick’s Pizza is a nod to Doug Merino’s brother, Phil, who died in 2014 and who was a pitcher for the former independent minor league baseball team the Portland Mavericks in the 1970s. Doug and Kay Merino also sponsor a Senior Babe Ruth baseball team in Doug’s home town of Westport called the Mavericks in honor of Phil Merino. In the Netflix documentary about the Portland Mavericks, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”, Doug Merino is proud to point out that a famous photo of a Maverick’s player giving the middle finger to the camera is Phil. He tells stories about his brother with a great deal of pride and said much of their family shares the same zest for life.
“We’re all kind of mavericks in the way we do things,” he said with a smile.
Both Doug and Kay Merino are proud third generation descendants of Croatian immigrants. They count themselves lucky to have grown up around their extended family where hard work, family and ingenuity were stressed. They started Merino’s Seafood Market in Westport in 1988, which they later sold to family members. In recent years, they have worked with McConkey to purchase dilapidated and unwanted buildings like the one on Centralia’s Main Street that now houses Maverick’s and turn them into community assets. They said they choose to commute from Olympia to work at Maverick’s Pizza because they really like Centralia and want to create a place where people can meet up with one another in a casual dining atmosphere.
“We want to be a true mom and pop restaurant. Get to know our customers and get to know what they like,” Kay Merino said.
“To me, they’re not customers, they’re our customers,” Doug Merino added.
Maverick’s Pizza offers dine-in, take-out and bake-at-home pizzas with ordering through their Website, over the phone and in store. The Merinos said they hope to soon offer delivery through a service such as Uber Eats or GrubHub. They are currently researching options for delivery and will announce on their Facebook and Web site when they begin offering it. The pizza lineup at Maverick’s includes all of the traditional toppings you would expect as well as a slate of unique combo pizzas including: “Beast” which is named for the Doug Merinos’ excitement for the return of Marshawn Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks and features Canadian bacon, pepperoni, Italian salami, sausage and ground beef; and Kay Merino’s favorite “Taco Pizza” which is a nod to her childhood memories of going to Shakey’s Pizza and is topped with tortilla chips and lettuce and served with sour cream and salsa on the side. Pizzas are cooked using conveyor driven pizza ovens, which ensure consistent results, and there is an emphasis on sourcing the best quality ingredients possible.
“You really can taste a difference,” Kay Merino said about spending a little extra for premium toppings.