Tuesday, July 25, 2017     Volume: 18, Issue: 20
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

The Hitching Post Casmalia celebrates 65 years of tradition

REBECCA ROSE

When Bill Ostini returned after time away from the family and asked his father for a job, the restaurateur had one request of his son.

“Dad gave me a steak, said, ‘Cook it medium rare,’” Bill said.


FLAMES OF TRADITION
The indoor fire pit at The Hitching Post in Casmalia burns with red oak wood from scrub oak trees. Frank Ostini, Sr., who purchased the venue in 1952, taught his children to cook steaks and other food on the same grill.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF NATALIE STRICKLIN PHOTOGRAPHY

So he put the meat on the grill at The Hitching Post in Casmalia and seared it off. When he was done, Frank cut into the meat, looked up at his son and said, “You’re hired.”

Reminiscing about his dad in an interview with the Sun, Bill still sounds proud of that moment when he pleased his father with his cooking skills all those years ago.

After all, Bill and his siblings had practically grown up at the restaurant. He had a knife in his hand when he was 8 years old, cutting meat, working as a fire starter for the grill, and doing whatever other job his father asked of him. He wasn’t alone. His whole family, including all of his siblings, worked for the restaurant in some way as waiters, bookkeepers, or grill cooks.

But it wasn’t always a perfect picture.

“Working for dad as teenager was a little tough,” Bill said, straining to politely ease through the words. “We had a little falling out when I was a teenager.”

He explained that his father was tough on his family because he wanted his kids to be the best. Bill said Frank didn’t want any of his children to stay in the restaurant business, steering them toward college and careers in engineering or similar fields.

“I never made it through college,” Bill said. “I ended up in service, in Vietnam.”

War, like it does to all men and women, had a sobering effect on the spirited young man. He returned from Vietnam to a job in the post office, where he quickly found out he wasn’t cut out for the job. That’s when he approached his father and asked to return to the restaurant.

His homecoming is a lifetime away from the person who dresses up as “Billy Wonka” to celebrate the Hitching Post’s 65th anniversary, taking pictures with guests and handing out prizes. Throughout May, the Ostini family and staff are celebrating the anniversary with a multitude of specials and prizes for their customers, some of whom have been coming to the restaurant for as long as Bill can remember.


A FAMILIAR FACE
After nearly four decades, Bill Ostini still likes to greet visitors and customers at The Hitching Post, often dressing up to hand out prizes or to celebrate occasions like the restaurant’s 65th anniversary in May.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF NATALIE STRICKLIN PHOTOGRAPHY

Frank Ostini bought The Hitching Post in 1952, along with brother Victor and nephew Jerry Ransom. The restaurant took on more partners and by 1957, Frank bought them out and it became an Ostini family business. Frank and his wife, Natalie, along with their six children, ran it until Frank’s death in 1977. Bill and brother Frank Jr. bought the business from their mother and by 1980 were running it themselves. Sister Terri took on accounting and administration roles, and siblings Mike, Bob, and Annette all worked alongside them.

Now, 65 years after Frank first bought into the restaurant, the family is still running essentially the same operation. To mark the occasion, the Hitching Post is serving up two New York strip steak dinners (Bill’s favorite cut of steak) for $65. In keeping with the Wonka theme, they’ve also been giving away free artichokes for life, in a promotion that involves winning a “golden ticket.”

What keeps the restaurant thriving, along with the Ostini family, is the food. The Hitching Post has a solid reputation as one of the best no-frills steakhouses in the region, and one look at its menu confirms why. Sizzling plates of thick-cut T-bones, sirloins, and rib eye steaks are the foundation of nearly every meal, served up with vegetables and baked potatoes or fries, virtually the same menu they’ve always relied on. The unofficial Ostini motto is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“The real reason people come back is consistency,” Bill said. “Being close to Vandenberg Air Force Base, we get a lot of people from all over the world. They leave and 20 years later they come back, and they can get the same steak they got when they were here last time. Things don’t change around The Hitching Post very easily.”

Customers are so used to the adherence to tradition at the restaurant, even the slightest change can send shock waves through their patrons. A few months ago a potato slicer broke down and the family had to order a new one. Fries came out different sizes and customers balked.

“The littlest thing can upset people,” Bill said.

Join the celebration
The Hitching Post celebrates its 65th anniversary with specials and prizes all throughout May. Visit them at 3325 Point Sal Road, Casmalia. More info: 937-6151.

Of course, the biggest element of their success is the one that helped Bill land that job all those years ago. The red oak fire pit has not changed since the restaurant first opened its doors. The fires of the indoor barbecue pit cook nearly every item of food that is served in the venue.

“We cook right in front of people,” Bill said. “People really love dining in front of the view.”

For the prodigal Ostini son who leisurely dresses up as children’s book characters to entertain regular customers, tourists, or people curious to see what the hype is all about, the job isn’t about earning a paycheck or pleasing a fastidious father.

“For me, this is more of a love than work,” he said. “I fell in love with the business. I always considered myself very lucky.”

 Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose’s favorite Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory character is Veruca Salt. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.

 


Pop in for a dozen cake pops at Orcutt Bakery.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ORCUTT BAKERY

• Did you forget Mother’s Day? Head over to Orcutt Bakery to make it up to mom with some festive cake pops (pictured). The boutique bakery sells them for $20 per dozen or $25 in a brown cake pop display box at 4869 S. Bradley Road, suite 112, Orcutt.

SizzlinGogi is now offering kimchi burritos for lunch for less than $10. Get pork, chicken, beef, or kick it up a notch with short rib. The venue adds kimchi fried rice, an egg, and everything delicious. Visit it at 1841 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.

• Congratulations are in order for one of Foxen Canyon’s wineries. Rancho Sisquoc won Double Gold and Best of Class in Region 2014 for their cabernet sauvignon at the California State Fair Wine Competition. Sounds like a good enough excuse for me to load up on a couple of bottles. Get your own award winner at 6600 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria.




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