Santa Maria Sun / Cuisine
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 30
Secrets of an iconThe beloved Hitching Post in Casmalia marks a milestone as owner Bill Ostini reveals all about the 'love of his life'
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Restaurants come and go. But every now and then, one comes along with the recipe for success, and stays forever.
Such is the case with the Hitching Post in Casmalia, celebrating its 60th anniversary in the capable hands of the Ostini family.
Santa Barbara County’s Historical Landmark No. 37 was built a century ago in the tiny Western town. First a hotel, it became the Hitching Post restaurant in the 1940s.
In 1952, brothers Frank and Victor Ostini bought it for $16,000. The Hitching Post has been in the Ostini family ever since.
Bill Ostini has owned it for 40 years, taking over for his father, Frank. By age 7, young Bill got hands-on training from an expert steak cutter—his dad.
“You know, my dad put a shotgun in my hands when I was 6,” Ostini said. “So, putting a knife in my hand was not that big of a deal for him. He taught me how to do it. We’d cut meat for five hours [on] a Saturday night.”
Back then, in the restaurant’s 1950s heyday, patrons had an easy time deciding which steak to eat.
“When my dad first started, you walked in and told him how you wanted it and he picked out the steak that he had that he was going to cook for you,” Ostini said. (Back then all steaks were 18-ounces. The price: $3.75.)
“Now, we have shrimp on the menu, we have lobster, pork chops, baby back pork ribs, scallops,” Ostini said.
The Hitching Post has not only survived all these years, it has succeeded, winning prestigious awards such as the 2010 National Beef Backer Award for Independent Restaurant of the Year.
Many locals call the Hitching Post their favorite restaurant. Some come for dinner more than once a week.
“They love my food,” Ostini said about his regular customers. “The waitress knows what you’re going to order before you even order it. The cocktail waitress is handing you a drink before you sit down.”
So, after all these years, what are the Hitching Post’s ingredients for success?
No. 1: Fantastic food.
“It starts with the quality of the food and really the simple way that we do it,” Ostini said.
Everything is made on premises: the dressings, sauces, and salsa. And your meal includes everything; your steak or fish dinner comes with a shrimp cocktail, salad, relish tray, side dish, garlic bread, coffee, and dessert.
(A glass of Hitching Post Pinot Noir, made by Bill’s brother Frank, costs extra, but it’s worth every cent.)
No. 2: The steaks.
Ostini buys his beef from packers in Kansas and Nebraska.
“It’s the best meat in the world. Back in the Midwest, they’re not grass-fed, they’re corn-fed,” Ostini said.
“You believe that corn-fed beef tastes better?” I asked. “Absolutely, not a doubt in my mind,” Ostini stated.
And the steaks are aged to perfection. A Hitching Post top sirloin has six weeks of age on it, a New York has 35 days on it, and rib eye has 28 days.
“It’s a little softer meat,” Ostini said of the rib eye.
Skillful cooks grill the steaks and seafood on an indoor barbecue pit over a red oak fire by in view of customers.
No. 3: Superior staff.
“My people give the best service of any restaurant around. I’d put them against anybody,” Ostini raved. “My crew right now is probably the best crew I’ve had in 40 years!”
Not only have entire families worked at the Hitching Post, but many stay for their whole careers.
Hilda Locarnini and her sister Darlene Vidal retired after waiting tables at the Hitching Post for 37 and 38 years respectively. Both of their daughters have worked there, too, for more than 20 years.
Bill’s sister is his “right hand” at the restaurant. Terri Ostini Stricklin waitressed for 25 years and now manages the Hitching Post.
Even Bill’s wife Sally has worked at the restaurant for more than two decades.
Many current employees have worked there for 20 years, including chef and Casmalia native Luis Meza, who perfectly prepared my filet mignon the night I recently dined there.
“I have six brothers and one sister, and every one of us has worked here in this restaurant,” Meza told me. “It’s fun! We have a really good staff here and we work as a team.”
Ostini added, “I don’t have very much turnover here—never have. Employees like working here.”
So does Bill.
“If I fell over dead tomorrow, I’d be the happiest man in the world. I’ve had a great life,” he attested.
No. 4: Consistency.
“That’s why people come in here,” Ostini said.
If you order a medium-rare filet mignon, that steak is cooked exactly the same way it was 40 years ago.
“And that’s the secret of keeping people happy: give them consistently the same food day in and day out,” Ostini said. “And for most restaurants, that’s really hard to do.”
And that consistency goes for the service, too.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a four-star general, or Leonardo DiCaprio, or just a farmer coming in from the east side of Santa Maria; we treat them all the same,” Ostini said.
(Yes, Hollywood A-lister DiCaprio came to Casmalia to eat at the Hitching Post. So have Joe DiMaggio, John Candy, Molly Ringwald, and Rush Limbaugh, among others.)
No. 5: Love.
“There isn’t a better job in the world. I love what I do,” said 63-year old Ostini, who can be found at the Hitching Post every night, and he still slaves over the barbecue pit one night a week, which he said doesn’t seem like work.
“It’s been a labor of love the whole time. I wouldn’t trade my life for anybody’s,” Ostini said. “It’s been the love of my life. It’s a very special place.”
The legendary Hitching Post is located at 3325 Point Sal Road, Casmalia. Open Monday through Saturday, from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m.
For reservations, call 937-6151. The restaurant’s website is hitchingpost1.com. ∆
Sun food and wine columnist Wendy Thies Sell likes to pair filet mignon with Pinot Noir. Contact her at email@example.com.
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