In the early 1900s approximately 1,500 people lived in the town of Casmalia, home of The Hitching Post Restaurant. The town itself is located in the Santa Maria Valley which was, until recent years, a farming community and many of Early Casmaliathe local residents were employed in agriculture. Others worked in the nearby oil fields or for the Southern Pacific Railroad which ran through the town.
Over the years, the residents of Casmalia have scattered until approximately only 200 hearty souls remain; 200 residents and a restaurant that is known throughout the country. How has the Hitching Post, located in such an out-of-the way spot, managed to gain – and keep – its wonderful reputation? What is its secret? Its history?
A visitor to the Hitching Post travels along roads far off the beaten track, but this was not always the case for down through the years Casmalia has assumed many roles during the various phases of California’s rich history and, like the yo yo, has seen its ups and downs.
For over 9000 years the Chumash Indians lived along the Casmalia Creek (Shuman Canyon).
1804: Santa Barbara, Santa Ines La Purisima, and San Luis Obispo Missions were established and early Californianos following El Camino Real traveled through the area. Cattle belonging to the La Purisima Mission roamed the nearby countryside.
September 12, 1840, Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado granted the Casmalia Rancho of two leagues to Antonio Olivera.
1863, Antonio was patented 8,841.21 acres by the U.S. government.
1861 the first stage connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles was inaugurated, and a line running from the Dana Rancho in Nipomo through Foxen Canyon and Los Olivos carried travelers to Santa Barbara.
Cattle, sheep and wool became very valuable during the Gold Rush. The coastal ranchers continued to prosper during the Civil War.
1863-64, the cattle were wiped out during a devastating two-year drought, and the local cattle ranchers suffered great losses.
1877 the stage coach route ran south to Guadalupe, passing near Casmalia on its way to Graciosa and Los Alamos before reaching Los Olivos.
1876-The disastrous drought was followed by a period of rain, resulting in burgeoning grain harvests – barley and wheat – and in order to carry the grain by ship to San Francisco and Los Angeles, Clark and Harriman built the Pt. Sal Wharf.
1877- Oil was discovered at Orcutt and Graciosa, oil crews arrived on the Casmalia scene and the first Casmalia school opened
1880 Chute Landing began operating. Wagons carrying the grain from the Santa Maria Valley passed through Casmalia on their way to the coast.
1882- The Pacific Coast Railway reached Santa Maria and Pt. Sal and Chute Landing were no longer needed, for the harvest could now be carried by rail to Port Harford (Port San Luis).
1896-Casmalia disappeared from the scene until 1896 when, in order to complete its coastal route, the Southern Pacific Railroad was pushing its tracks south from San Luis Obispo through Casmalia and housing was needed for section crews. That same year, Casmalia’s first post office opened.
1901-1937, the first through-train arrived and the Casmalia ranch was a flag stop on the railroad.
1920- Paul Veglia and his family bought the business, and then called the Casmalia Hotel, from H.H. Heller. 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. 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 home-style meals which she served family-style. I
1932 Paul Veglia passed away and for the next nine years Mrs. Veglia continued to run the business.
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.
1944- “The Hitching Post” was born! Mrs. Veglia passed away and her son Mario was left to run the restaurant and he decided to change it into a steakhouse. The Hitching Post was the first Oakwood Bar-B-Que restaurant in the area.
1945-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.
1946 -A third partner, Julio Zaragoza, joined the team. 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.
1952- The business was bought in full by brothers Frank and Victor Ostini. Frank did all the cooking behind the pit while Vic bartended and worked in the kitchen.
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!
1967- Frank bought Julio’s portion of the restaurant. It has remained solely owned by the Ostini family since. Menus were introduced and a variety of steak sizes were included on these menus along with BBQ’d Chicken. The hitching post was now open 7 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.
1977- Frank senior passed away and 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.
1979- Natalie leased the business to her two sons and within a year, sold the business to them.
1981- Business had become so good that another cook was hired, 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.
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.
1988, The Hitching Post in Casmalia experienced a dramatic fire. Many customers feared the Ostinis would not renovate the restaurant, but five months later – on August 3, 1988 – The Hitching Post doors in Casmalia were again opened for business.
1996 The restaurant became the 37th Santa Barbara County landmark
Bill Ostini currently owns the Casmalia restaurant while Frank owns the one in Buellton.
The Hitching Post follows the method introduced long ago in the old west, beginning with the indoor bar-b-que pit using red oak wood that comes exclusively from the scrub oak tree which is indigenous to the area, and purchasing only the finest beef, aged to perfection. The weather-beaten walls of the 100-year-old building are crammed with memories that induce an atmosphere of Western nostalgia. Casmalia remains a picturesque western town and it is not uncommon to see a cowboy hanging out at the Hitching Post!