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If only walls could talk. Then, oh, the tales that Fossati’s Delicatessen in Victoria could tell. The wooden slats might whisper about a bloody incident after the turn of the 20th century when an enraged resident shot down his wife’s lover, who staggered across the deli’s front threshold and died. Or they might recall a hot day in August 1932 when gangsters Bonnie and Clyde flung open the swinging doors, gulped down a beer at the bar, then fled. “At least, that’s what Uncle Kite used to tell,” says Therese Fossati Bomersbach, 71, who runs the family deli, billed as the state’s oldest.
True or not, the colorful stories add to the Wild West ambiance that permeates Fossati’s, established in 1882 by Frank Napoleon Fossati (feh-SEH’-tee). “My grandfather was a stonecutter from Italy who hoped to find a job at the state Capitol, but he arrived too soon,” says Bomersbach, a member of Nueces Electric Cooperative. “For a time, he worked for the railroad. Then he came to Victoria and opened a chili and sandwich stand” at the intersection of South Main and Juan Linn streets, she says. Later, he opened a bar across the street. In 1895, he and a partner opened a saloon on a third corner. Then in 1902, he opened Fossati’s Grocery and Feed Store in the present 1895 clapboard building, which still retains the original wooden bar and large mirror.
Frank retired in 1910 and handed the business to son Caeton (Kite). In those early years, only men frequented Fossati’s. At the bar, a trough-style spittoon at their feet provided a convenient place to spit tobacco and take care of other matters. At day’s end, someone would rinse the trough into an outside drain. To this day, the spittoon remains—but for looks only!
Another remnant from Frank’s era hangs high on one wall. The framed prose, hand-penned in black ink on stained butcher paper, advises patrons how to act like gentlemen. “In 1908, my grandfather paid a traveling sign painter two schooners [mugs] of beer and a sandwich for that,” Bomersbach says. “The sign disappeared in the 1960s, but we got it back in July 2013.”
Caeton retired in 1967. Managers outside the family ran Fossati’s until 1981, when it shut down. But not for long. Seven descendants, including Bomersbach, bought back the business in 1984. After renovations, Fossati’s reopened for lunch only (it is closed weekends) in 1987.
On the menu, several items harken back to Frank and Caeton’s time, like the Reuben sandwich and Kite’s Kalteraufschnitt (Dutch lunch), a plate of sliced meats and cheeses served with coleslaw, potato salad and sliced bread. Along with sandwiches, the deli also serves soups, salads and a daily special, such as King Ranch chicken or lasagna. Tempting desserts include peach cobbler, apple crisp and Fossati’s brownie sundae.
Daring customers request the deli’s signature hot beer mustard, made fresh using Frank’s original recipe. “Our mustard doesn’t get you going down, but it’ll sure clear out your sinuses!” Bomersbach grins. “We use beer, ground mustard and one other ingredient. And it’s not horseradish!”
No hot mustard, please, for Phil Castille, president of the University of Houston-Victoria, who drops by regularly for a double-meat corned beef on rye with a side of coleslaw. “Fossati’s is a local institution with a long history,” he says between bites. “We love to bring our job candidates here. But the thing is, the food is always good. Just having a heritage wouldn’t keep this place open!”
Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, a frequent contributor, is a member of Pedernales Electric Cooperative.