Marty Ochoa: Lifelong Martinez Resident Is Right Where He Should Be

"Mr. Santa Claus" now has a thriving pizza restaurant in the heart of downtown Martinez

Marty Ochoa likes to say the only time he hasn't lived in Martinez was when he was born in 1956 at Kaiser Hospital in Walnut Creek.

"I relocated to Martinez shortly after that," Ochoa says with his familiar chuckle. "I've been here ever since."

That he has.

As a youngster, Ochoa attended St. Catherine School and John Muir Elementary as well as Martinez Junior High before graduating from Alhambra High in 1974.

He remembers when Martinez had less than 20,000 residents. When Alhambra Avenue ended at Alhambra Road. When there were no stoplights.

The man known as "Mr. Santa Claus" around town now lives with his wife, Barbara, on Veale Avenue in a house he moved into 28 years ago and rented from his grandparents. The home is across the street from where he lived as a child. It's also next door to the place his father now lives in.

"Martinez is quiet and quaint," Ochoa says. "It's a nice, blue collar town."

Ochoa now finds himself smack in the middle of it. Since he retired from Contra Costa County as a fleet services manager in June 2011, Ochoa has been the owner of Marty O's Pizzeria at Main and Ferry streets downtown.

"I always had a dream of owning a restaurant," Ochoa said. "When I retired, I cashed in all my chips and did it."

Ochoa hired an experienced restaurant manager and then remodeled the place that was a taqueria and a Hallmark card store before that.

"We took what existed and made it a little bit better," says Ochoa.

The Martinez native decided being open in the evening and having consistent hours was important. So, his pizzeria operates from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

"You get the hours and get the schedule so people know when you're open," says Ochoa.

He also instituted an "old school menu" and installed a conveyer oven that cooks a pizza in five minutes. Ochoa says that gets the food to the customer more quickly and makes it less greasy.

The business, he says, has done well in the past year and a half. The location helps. So does the remodel and the menu. It also doesn't hurt that so many people in town know Ochoa.

"We see anybody and everybody in Martinez coming in here," he says. "People said we couldn't open a restaurant in this economy, but here we are."

Ochoa has had some experience with food service in Martinez. For the past 18 years, his catering business has run the snack shacks at Joe DiMaggio Fields by the marina. He also operates the shacks at Willow Pass Fields in Concord as well as Concord Community Park.

However, his experience with the snack shacks wasn't much help in opening a restaurant.

"Running a catering business and running a restaurant are like night and day," Ochoa says.

Ochoa is also known around town as the community's Santa Claus. He's been donning the red suit and hat since the late 1970s. He started with Christmas gigs at Diablo Valley College and the Kmart in Pleasant Hill.

A few years later, he established himself as Martinez's Santa Claus. With his natural white beard, he's perfect for the job.

Ochoa says he does the annual Santa tradition to provide entertainment and sometimes solace for the community's children.

In particular, he points to an event last year where a child sat on his lap while he was taking a break at the downtown Starbucks. Unknown to Ochoa, the child's mother had died the month before and sitting on Santa's lap gave her great comfort.

"It's all about giving back to the community. That's where it's at," he says.

Ochoa isn't sure how much longer he'll operate the downtown restaurant. He'd like it to be awhile, but he does suffer from some health issues. He's had two heart bypass operations and he has diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

"I'm a medical disaster walking," he says with that familiar chuckle.

For now, Ochoa will enjoy looking out on his hometown from the corner of Main and Ferry.

"It's the best location ever," he says. "I'm lucky and I'm blessed."

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Bill Schilz December 29, 2012 at 01:06 AM
And Marty, we are BLESSED to have you in our community! If you see Santa in your wanderings around town, be sure to give him a BIG hug!
MIKE ALFORD December 29, 2012 at 07:47 AM
Ive Known Marty for over 40 years he has always been a stand up guy he has always went out of his way to take time and listen to you ! He has helped more people here in Martinez than anyone I know or have known ! he in his lifetime has provided jobs for many people & helped famelys stay together by helping them keep their dignity and support .His outright honest way of how he lives makes him one of the REAL & Outstanding Citizens That Martinez Has To Look Up To ! I Know That I Do --------------
Anne Mobley December 29, 2012 at 09:28 AM
Very nice article on a very nice person. Congrats to Marty. His store is a wonderful addition to our merchant family downtown. Best wishes for a prosperous 2013!
Jenny J Starmack December 29, 2012 at 02:56 PM
We love you Marty! For everything you do! You love Martinez and it shows. AND It's contagious!
Robin Sommers Wyatt January 13, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Hey Marty, Not sure if you remember me, but I still have the pictures of you and my son's first Christmas at Payless in Martinez. I am glad you are making a dream of yours come true. Many more years be blessed. Robin Sommers Wyatt


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