No matter the length of the line, customers at the Italian Grocery were never hurried or interrupted while chatting with longtime owner Valentino “Tino” Ziliotto.
The late local deli and grocery legend, who died at age 86 in January, genuinely wanted to talk to and know the regulars at his downtown Santa Barbara joint, and he kept the prices low because he understood other people needed to make a living, too.
Consistent product at reasonable prices, that was the working formula, Ziliotto’s nephew, Elio Morinini, said on a recent afternoon at the grocery’s soon-to-be new location.
The planned move from 415 E. De la Guerra St. — its home for nearly 40 years — to 210 W. Carrillo St. is bittersweet for Ziliotto’s family, who call the decision nerve-wracking, exciting and scary.
Not that they had a choice. Ziliotto got to keep the business in a divorce from his wife last year, and she got to keep the building.
Ziliotto was very much against the move, but finally gave his blessing last spring, around the time the business was incorporated as Tino’s Italian Grocery.
Now the family — his sister, Terry Morinini, and her three children — hopes to honor his memory by keeping the place as close to the original as possible, including those famous “Super Deluxe” sub sandwiches.
“It’s not ours; it’s his,” said Deanna Morinini, Ziliotto’s niece. “He chose that spot. To leave what he built and come here, it’s sad. But it’s starting a new chapter.
“And Terry’s the boss,” she said, smiling.
“No, no, no,” her mother said, gladly deflecting attention to Elio, who took over full time for his uncle last September.
“She’s got to make sure we’re doing our jobs,” Deanna said.
Terry Morinini began working in the grocery with her brother decades ago at the request of her parents.
Ziliotto worked at Jordano’s supermarket and then at the deli — when it was on Olive Street — before buying it with a partner in 1947.
Ten years later, the partner departed and Ziliotto moved it to De la Guerra Street in 1976, not far from Santa Barbara High School where he and all the Morininis graduated. That location closed March 15 in preparation for the move and a summer opening.
The Morininis hoped they would be stocking olive oils on the shelves by now, but construction delays have pushed an opening into October.
As the oldest child, Deanna has been in charge of all architects, permits and paperwork, calling it a “labor of love.”
She and brother Dino Morinini grew up in the grocery. He helps out when he can, but his family lives in Orcutt.
Elio, the youngest sibling who also bartends at O’Malley’s, thinks the new spot will get more exposure at the busy corner of De la Vina and Carrillo streets. The building, formerly a Carrows Restaurant, is slightly smaller than the old place and shares a parking lot instead of having its own.
Elio said he’s not taking over for his uncle, who happily worked 12-hour days seven days a week.
He’s just seeing his life’s work through.
“The main reason we’re keeping on with the business is to carry on his legacy,” Elio said. “He did so much stuff for people in the neighborhood, and you never knew about it because he wasn’t going to tell you about it. I figure if we can do half of the job he did, we’ll be extremely successful. His spirit will be here. It’s more than just a business for us.”
“Like my uncle said, it’s in our blood,” Deanna added.