Apr 30, 2013 7:03 PM by Jeanette Trompeter

No Place Like Home: "Sideways" and the Hitching Post Restaurant in Buellton

Almost 30 years ago a restaurant opened on the central coast that actually has roots going back more than 60 years. And even if you've never been there, chances are you've still seen the inside a few times. The Hitching Post in Buellton is world famous, quite honestly, by a bit of chance. And it's more proof there's No place Like Home.

On any given night, there's a crowd. Known for it's oak-fire Santa Maria style barbecue, it's a come as you are, come hungry kind of place. Started by Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley in 1986, it seats about 140 people and was born out of the success of the original Hitching post in Casmalia. Franks parents started that one.

Although Frank swore he'd not follow their foot-steps, he found himself doing just that when he opened this place in a community not a whole lot bigger on the map than Casmalia. "It was just Pea Soup and of course it was a road stop on the way for people traveling from Hollywood to San Francisco in the old days." says Frank Ostini, co-owner and chef/winemaker.

Frank may not have been fired up about the restaurant business or Buellton at the time, but he and Gray were passionate about wine. They had been making it at home since 1979. "The idea of wine with food made me fall in love with the restaurant business...with my family's business and it got me back." says Ostini.

Over the next two decades he'd watch wine country on the Central Coast grow and start to thrive, and so did the Hitching Post. But in 2004 it exploded when the Santa Ynez Valley was featured in a little movie that was both at the same time hilarious and heartbreaking.

Sideways, the movie, ended up winning an academy award for best comedy, but it also portrayed human frailty, the angst of dreams denied, and the inability to handle growing up and older with grace. Gray Hartley, co-owner and cellar-master at the Hitching Post, remembers being pitched on the idea of shooting the movie at the restaurant. "Frank came to me and said, I just read the screenplay, and Gray. Do you really want our wine and our restaurant to be known as a place where debauchery stems from and drinking and driving and all this crazy activity?" "We were scratching our heads." says Ostini. "We really didn't know which way to go with it."

Gray was the first one to start warming to the idea. "I said, Frank it's an art film. They've only got 16 million dollars to do this, it's going to be a flash in the pan and forgotten in three months or it will go somewhere. You can't loose either way." Ostini eventually got on board. "It took me meeting the director straight on and finding out what his sensibilities where to convince me he was intelligent, he knew what he was doing, it was more than just a comedy..that he understood the dark side of what was all there. And he surely did."

The film was released rather quietly, but within months its impacts began to hit home. It nearly doubled business at the Hitching Post and put Buellton and the Central Coast on the World Wide map. "Yeah, we actually tripled the size of the winery," says Gray. We went from 5 thousand cases to 15 thousand cases."

Pinot Noir sales went up 20% quickly nationwide, and the Hitching Post Hometown Pinot Noir became a hot commodity. And a simple joke in the movie made merlot take a hit.

Sideways may have brought the globally wine-inclined to town, but the truth is vino has always been very closely tied to the roots of this place.

The guy who wrote the screenplay started scribbles for the movie at the now famous bar, but he didn't even know about our local wine country when he came to town. He stopped into the right place, though, learning through locals about it, and helping them appreciate the treasures to be found right in our own backyard. "Sideways helped us do that." says Ostini. "Sideways helped us appreciate what we had here, and we gained a sense of pride from that." he says.

It's a partnership that proved there's No Place Like Home.



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