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Local News

‘Tino’ Ziliotto Remembered for Grace, Groceries, and as Sub Sandwich-Making Legend

Family, friends recall generations of patrons flocking to Santa Barbara's Italian Grocery for lunch and a warm welcome

Santa Barbara has lost an institution with the death of Valentino “Tino Ziliotto, longtime owner of the Italian Grocery near downtown.

Ziliotto, who was known as Tino to most, was famous for the “Super Deluxe” sub sandwiches he served to generations of Santa Barbarans from behind the counter of his store and deli at 415 E. De la Guerra St.

Ziliotto, 86, died Thursday at his Santa Barbara home.

Born April 4, 1927, in Santa Barbara, Ziliotto grew up in the same Voluntario Street home where he died, according to his niece, Deanna Morinini.

“This was his home,” she said of her uncle, who attended Franklin Elementary, Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High schools. 

Ziliotto worked for Jordanos supermarket, and eventually purchased the deli, formerly located on Olive Street, in 1947.

The family has signed a lease on a space at 210 W. Carrillo St. that was formerly a Carrows restaurant, and Morinini said the upcoming move comes with “a lot of mixed emotions,” since her uncle chose the De la Guerra Street location himself. It’s where he worked for more than 60 years.

Morinini said the last day her uncle was in the store was Sept. 1, when her brother, Elio, began working there full time, taking over for him.

She recalled her uncle was an avid New York Yankees fan with an incredible memory, who could recall the faces of his customers and their personal histories.

“It was fun sitting at the kitchen table, listening to him and my mom go back and forth, remembering people’s kids or what someone had bought 20 years ago,” she recalled.

Morinini said living with her uncle in the Voluntario Street house for the last months of his life gave the family irreplaceable quality time together.

“I am very blessed and honored to be able to call him my uncle,” she said.

Dede Nonn, co-owner of Arnoldi’s Café, called Ziliotto “quite a legend in Santa Barbara.”

Nonn said that most of the Italians who settled in the area were from northern Italy, including her family, which emigrated from the Lake Como region. She said they came to Santa Barbara County and “found their niche here.”

She recalled going into Ziliotto’s store as a young child.

“We’d go in there as kids and get the cold cuts and always hung out there,” she said.

Nonn recalled that Ziliotto “always had on a white apron and hat, and was always really friendly ... He would greet you and knew exactly what you wanted.”

“We’d go home with stacks of sandwiches wrapped in white butcher paper,” she said. “We were in seventh heaven.”

David Bolton, who lives two blocks away from the store on East De la Guerra Street, recalled first meeting Ziliotto when he was in junior high school.

Bolton attended Santa Barbara Junior High in the late 1970s and remembers the first time he met him, when he walked into the Italian Grocery for lunch between classes.

“He was such a nice guy in terms of how he treated his customers,” Bolton said. “He would be behind the counter making sandwiches, and his wife, Edith, would be working the cash register.”

Bolton said Ziliotto worked behind the counter from the time the store first opened until his health prevented him from doing so more recently.

Even then, he said, “he would still come in and walk the store and say hello.”

The whole neighborhood near the Italian Grocery is especially significant to the Italian community of Santa Barbara.

Many Italian immigrants came to the area to work as fishermen and stonemasons.

The sandwiches at the Italian Grocery drew people from all walks of life, and on “any given day you could find workers from downtown, people from Montecito, elderly people who had made the trek across the street from the senior living home,” Bolton said. “The cool thing about it was that everybody was there.”

Funeral services for Ziliotto were pending Saturday. Arrangements were being handled by Welch-Ryce-Haider Funeral Chapels.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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