The Hitching Post in Casmalia

The Hitching Post Restaurant
Santa Barbara County Historical Landmark # 37

Reliable sources inform us that Paul Veglia and his family bought the business, then called the Casmalia Hotel, from H.H. Heller in 1920. The hotel consisted of eleven single rooms, two showers, and a restroom, and the family moved into the back of the building where there were three bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and a bathroom. Building Front

Oil and railroad booms were taking place near Casmalia at that time, and the workers frequently stayed at the hotel. Mrs. Veglia was a great Italian cook and she would prepare homestyle meals which she served family-style. In 1933 the liquor prohibition was repealed and the Veglia's received a liquor license for the bar. Ed Vail's guests and guests at the Marshallia Dude Ranch frequented the hotel as did Camp Cooke employees. For recreation and entertainment there were pool tables, player pianos, a card table, and a wood stove where everyone could gather and share stories. On many occasions the pool tables were pushed aside for dancing.

Paul Veglia passed away in 1932 and for the next nine years Mrs. Veglia continued to run the business. In 1942 she rented it out to Kit Carson (not the Kit Carson) who intended to open a barber shop and a room for gambling (which was illegal). When the county learned of his plans, a permit was not issued for both. His barber shop business only lasted about four months.

When Mrs. Veglia passed away in 1944, her son Mario was left to run the restaurant and he decided to change it into a steakhouse. He changed the name and "The Hitching Post" was born. The Hitching Post was the first oakwood Bar-B-Que restaurant in the area.

Mario went into partnership with Mr. Boyd "Boydy" Wyse and the two of them tore down the hotel rooms in back and renovated the restaurant. (Wyse had leased the Casmalia Ranch during WWII.) In 1946 a third partner, Julio Zaragoza, joined the team. (Julio leased the Casmalia Ranch after Boyd.) Mario Veglia became a silent partner, Boyd was the main partner, and Boyd and Julio did the majority of work, taking turns at the pit and managing the restaurant.

Frank Ostini, SRIn 1952 the business was bought in full by brothers Frank and Victor Ostini and their nephew, Jerry Ransom. Two years later the brothers bought out Jerry. Frank did all the cooking behind the pit while Vic bartended and worked in the kitchen. They did some rebuilding - increasing the size of the bar-b-que pit and adding an extra dining room, some storage rooms, and a meat-cutting room.

In 1957 Julio Zaragoza bought Vic's share of the business, and Frank and Julio then took turns behind the pit cooking. There were no menus in 1957 and only one dinner was available - an eighteen-ounce steak (chef's choice of top sirloin, New York, filet mignon, or T-bone), French fries, shrimp cocktail or tomato juice, tossed green salad, beverage, and ice cream for dessert. The complete meal cost $3.75!

In 1967 Frank bought Julio's portion of the restaurant. It has remained solely owned by the Ostini family since.

At that time the cooking duties were left completely in Frank's hands, and he decided to teach Hilda Locarnini the cooking end of the business. Hilda had been waitressing at The Hitching Post for thirteen years.

That same year Natalie Ostini, Frank's wife, suggested using menus. A variety of steak sizes were included on these menus and bar-b-qued chicken was added. Until 1967 The Hitching Post had been closed on Sundays, but now the Ostini's decided to open the restaurant seven days a week.

Frank and Natalie Ostini had six children, four boys and two girls, and all of them worked in the restaurant at one time or another. Natalie, who handled the bookkeeping, also filled a variety of other roles from hostessing to bartending.

When Frank Sr. passed away in 1977, his sons Bill and Frank, Jr. took over the daily operation of the business. By that time, both men had been doing most of the cooking. In October, 1979, Natalie leased the business to her two sons and within a year, sold the business to them. Their sister, Terri, took over the bookkeeping chores from mom while continuing to waitress and hostess; younger brother Mike served as bartender while another younger brother Bob was a dishwasher. Annette, the youngest of the six siblings, was the busperson.

By 1981 business had become so good that another cook, Brad Lettau, was hired. Brad was the first, full-time cook who was not a family member. At this time fresh bar-b-qued fish and lobster were added to the menu and, a short time later, shrimp was also added. Dinner

In 1986 the Ostini brothers opened their second restaurant, Hitching Post II, in Buellton. This restaurant became instantly successful, with many new customers finding their way to a delightful dining experience.

On March 12, 1988, The Hitching Post in Casmalia experienced a dramatic fire. Fortunately, only the kitchen was destroyed, but the rest of the facility suffered major smoke damage. Though many customers feared the Ostinis would not renovate the restaurant, five months later - on August 3, 1988 - The Hitching Post doors in Casmalia were again opened for business. Bill Ostini currently owns the Casmalia restaurant while Frank owns the one in Buellton. Their sister, Terri Ostini) Stricklin manages the Casmalia restaurant where brother Bob Ostini has been cooking since 1986, and sister Annette (Ostini) Dunning waitresses. Third generation nephews Jim Allen, Tony Allen, and Joey Ostini also work at this restaurant.

We are proud of our loyal staff, many of whom have worked for our family for over 20 years.  Some of our alumni include Hilda Locarnini (retired after 37 years) and her sister Darlene Vidal (retired after 38 years). Current employees with over 20 years include Paulette Postiff, Mary Dana (Hilda's daughter), Sally Ostini, Mindy Koval and Phil Meza.

Camp Cooke, which later became Vandenberg Air Force Base, is located nearby and the restaurant has been a favorite of air force personnel and the many contractors who have worked at the base. The base has experienced numerous highs and lows over the past 40 years and, from time to time, these fluctuations have affected The Hitching Post. But because the personnel at the base come from different sections of the United States, word of the fabulous food has spread, and The Hitching Post has received favorable reviews in numerous newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, California Magazine, and Gourmet.

The restaurant became the 37th Santa Barbara County landmark on October 12, 1996 during a ceremony at the restaurant. Attending were many local dignitaries, including Congresswoman Andrea Seastrand.

What is the secret to the BBQ that has become world famous? The Hitching Post follows the method introduced long ago in the old west, beginning with the indoor bar-b-que pit. A good fire is extremely important, and for this the Ostinis use red oak wood that comes exclusively from the scrub oak tree which is indigenous to the area. Frank Ostini instilled in his sons the importance of purchasing only the finest beef, aged to perfection. They endeavor to keep alive the traditions of the old romantic West. The weather-beaten walls of the 100-year-old building are crammed with memories that induce an atmosphere of Western nostalgia to romantically inclined people who can relax and trade the pressures of the fast, modern world for an evening of Old West Hospitality.

Now, for even more about the Ostini Family and the food, you might be interested in a school essay by one of the young Ostini's, An Interview with Grandma.