Places in Time

Castillo family has place in Waco culinary history

By Terri Jo Ryan, Tribune-Herald staff writer

May 15, 2006


For some, the Castillo family's place in local history was assured when they introduced the exotic foreign dish called "pizza pie" to Waco taste buds around 1950.

Antonio P. Castillo Sr., owner of El Patio at 116 16th St. near downtown Waco, and his sons had been taught how to prepare the item by an Italian airman serving at the nearby James Connally Air Force Base. He also coached them on the proper techniques for preparing lasagna, spaghetti and manicotti — dishes that were popular with the "Northeastern airmen" who populated the base.

"There was no other pizza place in town until Shakey's came in 1965," said Castillo's grandson and namesake, Tony III. "No one had even heard of it before then."

One of the oldest restaurant families of Waco still in business, the Castillos have been serving up south-of-the-border cuisine here for more than 80 years.

Antonio Castillo Sr. was but a lad of 15 when his family left Mexico's Coahuila state for Waco in 1911. In 1922, he and his brother, Alex, opened the Texas Cafe in downtown Waco.

Antonio Castillo Sr.'s wife, Josephine, gave him four sons and three daughters, and taught them all how to make the pralines that longtime customers still remember from that first Waco eatery, the grandson said.

From 1935 to 1948, Castillo ran the Aztec Cafe at 818 Austin Ave. The back of the building had a popular dance hall known as "The Patio," Tony III said.

When the elder Castillo opened the restaurant he first named El Patio in 1948, it was in a humble 800-square-foot space on 16th Street. For the next 15 years, it seemed, there was always a carpenter, plumber or painter on duty, Tony noted. By the time Italian Village, as it was renamed in 1952, closed its doors in 1986, it had grown to about 5,700 square feet.

The Italian Village years were busy ones for the Castillo family:

— Son Ernest Castillo left in 1961 to open a restaurant on Old Dallas Highway.

— Son Sam Castillo left in 1963 to open La Fiesta, which is operated to this day by his son, Sam Jr., and daughter Vicki Castillo.

— Son Memo left in 1965 to open Memo's in downtown Waco.

But Antonio P. Castillo Jr. helped his father keep Italian Village open into the 1980s.

"My grandfather worked every day until the day before he died (in 1982)," said Tony. "He just went to sleep one night and never woke up."

Antonio P. Castillo Jr. had Casa de Castillo built in 1981 at 4820 Sanger Ave. Under the ownership of the grandsons, Tony and Richard Castillo, the restaurant continues to share family hospitality with a loyal customer base. Tony said there is one woman in her mid-90s who can recall having eaten at every Castillo family eatery since 1922.

All the Castillo children of generations two, three and now four have some background training in the family business, Tony said. In the mid-1960s, at age 8, he started as a busboy, then worked in the kitchen with the dishwashers. Eventually he worked up to cooking, and finally as a cashier and on the wait staff.

He recalled that in his youth, he and younger brother Richard enjoyed the adventure of staying up all night with their father. Italian Village didn't shut the doors until 1 a.m. Saturdays and 2 a.m. Sundays, so it was not uncommon to have dozens of people come in right after midnight, he remembered.

The late 1960-70s, he said, with all the competition from other Italian eateries, Italian Village started added Tex-Mex dishes back into the mix of offerings.



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