Paul Figliomeni said he has two passions in life: cooking and surfing.

The cooking he picked up from growing up in a 100% Italian household “eating the best food in the world,” he said. He started cooking at age 5.

The surfing Figliomeni learned as a senior in high school in 1977 living in California.

“And so what I did is I combined my passion for cooking—I’m a classically trained chef—and my passion for surfing into this business model,” Figliomeni said.

This business model is Surf City Sandwich, which opened in 2014 in Santa Cruz, California. Figliomeni and his wife, Elaine, moved to Gilbert in 2018—Elaine originally is from Tucson—to escape the cost of living and politics. They were not necessarily looking to open another Surf City Sandwich here, but they seized an opportunity to open a second location on Power Road, not far from their new home in town.

“We’re different,” Paul said. “We’re a craft sandwich restaurant. We’re not a sub shop or a deli or a corporate chain.”

His creations are a product of his background in cooking. Figliomeni enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco in 1986, and after graduation, worked at five-star restaurants before starting a 25-year run as the executive chef at De Anza College in Cupertino, California.

Many of the recipes for his sandwiches were created as he wrapped up his time at De Anza.

“Kind of on the side, I’d create this killer sandwich and test it out on my co-workers and my boss and other staff members,” Paul said. “And they’d go, ‘Wow, great.’ So I started taking notes because I knew I was going to do my own thing.”

Finally, he put in for retirement from the college, submitted a business plan to an angel investor and signed a lease on space in Santa Cruz.

The Gilbert shop was scheduled to open in April 2020, but with the pandemic raging, his landlord told him to hold out a couple months before opening. When it opened in June, it quickly had lines out the door, Figliomeni said.

The Gilbert eatery began beer and wine sales in October, and a third Surf City Sandwich could soon be on the way at the Revel Surf at Cannon Beach water park under construction in Mesa for a 2022 opening.

That would fit Surf City’s beach theme and Figliomeni’s life story, he said. After high school graduation and before enrolling in culinary school, he said he spent the intervening years surfing, partying and following the Grateful Dead on tour.

“It was hippie hell, but it was fun while it lasted,” he said.

Paul’s favorite surf spots

Here are the beaches Figliomeni says are his favorites for surfing.

  • Pleasure Point, his home beach in Santa Cruz County

  • Malibu

  • Santa Monica

  • Anywhere in San Diego, but particularly San Onofre, Cardiff Reef and La Jolla

Surf City Sandwich

5482 S. Power Road, Gilbert


Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.