As Deborah Brugo, 71, of Victoria, sat at a table in Fossati’s Delicatessen, eating her pasta salad, she estimated she’d been dining at the restaurant for 20 years.
Many in the community can be called regulars like Brugo, too, because the restaurant has had over a century to amass a dedicated following in the Crossroads.
There’s a lot of history within the Victoria delicatessen.
It’s operated by the Fossati family, who can trace their roots all the way from Milan to Victoria. The restaurant still has the original bar installed — complete with a built-in spittoon — where an original mahogany case stands tall and regal behind.
Even the ceiling has history, family member and board President John Fossati said. It’s lined with boards from a Port O’Connor Coast Guard station destroyed by Hurricane Carla in 1961.
The true history lies in the food, though. More specifically, it’s a history of consistent quality.
“The food is excellent,” Brugo said. “It’s always consistently good. You don’t have to worry about the quality of what you’re going to get.”
Fossati’s, the oldest delicatessen in Texas and a site on the National Registry of Historic Places, is fast approaching its 140th anniversary in March.
The deli is still operated by a board of directors comprised of 33 Fossati family members, Fossati said. Like many family owned businesses, the deli has adapted to survive through the COVID-19 pandemic. After 140 years in existence it has a history of enduring hard times.
The third and fourth generations of the Fossati family sit on a board of directors, Fossati said. They have hired outside of the family to manage the business, though, as many of the Fossatis have other careers they are focusing on as well. In addition to being board president, Fossati owns and operates Four Seasons Garden Center in Victoria.
“We’re all still very involved,” he said. “It’s a family owned business. There’s a board of directors and shareholders and everybody that is a shareholder is a member of the family.”
When the fourth generation of Fossatis became involved, they revised the menu and updated the pricing to help the restaurant continue to survive, he said.
Survival is what Fossati’s does, too.
To make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant expanded its delivery and takeout services, which began before the pandemic ever hit, Fossati said.
“We only closed for maybe two or three weeks,” he said.
The delivery service is robust and wide-ranging, Fossati said. Not only do they deliver in Victoria, but they travel as far as the Point Comfort Formosa Plastics plant to deliver their food.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only hard times the restaurant has endured, Fossati said.
Prior to prohibition, the restaurant wasn’t a restaurant at all, but a saloon, he said. The ban on alcohol threatened to close the saloon down, so Fossati’s great-grandfather, Frank Fossati, transformed the saloon into a restaurant that served sandwiches made with imported meats and cheeses.
The saloon was established in 1882, Fossati said. His great-grandfather was a stonecutter that immigrated to the United States from Milan, Italy, and made his way to Texas from Ellis Island after hearing that the Texas Capital Building needed skilled stonecutters to help within construction.
Unfortunately, the elder Fossati arrived in Texas too early, Fossati said, and his great-grandfather instead settled in Victoria and established a saloon called Cosmopolitan Bar that would eventually become Fossati’s Delicatessen.
Today, the restaurant stands on the corner of Juan Linn and Main streets, and in it’s 140-year history, it has stood at each corner of those streets at one point in time, Fossati said.
The family is planning a celebration for the upcoming anniversary, but no exact plans are in place yet.