Editor’s note: Delta restaurant Giusti’s Place was to be featured in our October issue as the subject of Comstock’s recurring Off the Beaten Track column. Last night (Thursday, Sept. 9), the much-beloved restaurant burned to the ground, taking a century’s worth of memories with it. Comstock’s has chosen to run an edited version of our original story here, in tribute to one of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s favorite gathering spots.
Giusti’s Place in Walnut Grove, whether reached by vehicle or by a short walk from the nearby boat dock, was a must-stop for visitors to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region for over 100 years.
Giusti’s, in its fourth generation of family ownership, had called the historic Miller Ferry Saloon building in Walnut Grove its home since 1912. Visitors were drawn to the restaurant’s classic Italian American menu offering lunches and three-course dinners, all served with a bowl of minestrone soup. The bar and restaurant were a sight to see, with walls covered with autographed photos from the likes of Ronald Reagan, Jay Leno and Mickey Mantle, plus 1,500 baseball caps hanging from the ceiling.
Giusti’s rustic river charm gained national attention in 2009 when it was featured in a Food Network episode of Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
“It can be like a country club here at lunch time, with all the regulars coming in, sitting and mingling at the bar,” said Mark Morais, who ran Giusti’s Place with his wife, Linda Morais, their three children and 20 employees.
One of those regulars having lunch at the bar on a recent weekday afternoon was local architect Gilbert Labrie, who said he first visited Giusti’s in 1962. John Baranek, another local, said he came in four days a week for lunch. “I like the consistency of the food and the camaraderie,” Baranek said.
Giusti’s Place moved into its current location when the property was obtained by Morais’ grandfather, Egisto Giusti, who had emigrated from Italy with his brothers in 1900. Giusti’s was originally two structures, with one building in the back serving as the family home. The front building, where the bar and restaurant were, housed a saloon, general store and a ferry toll station.
“They lived in the back and that was their home,” Morais said of his grandparents Egisto and Irene. “My grandfather’s cousin was a chef living downstairs and they would take in the local workers and friends and feed them, and that’s basically how the restaurant got started.” Giusti’s didn’t actually start charging for meals until around 1940, Morais said.
Mark’s parents, Moe and Dolores Morais, took over Giusti’s in 1950. Mark Morais worked there growing up as a cook and bartender before finishing college in 1972 at Santa Clara University. After college, Morais continued to work the bar and took it over after his father opened a liquor store in Walnut Grove. Morais’ children have all worked at Giusti’s, with his youngest, Matt Morais, most recently running bar operations, while daughter Katie Haman worked part time hiring employees and as a food server.
Giusti’s Place was known for giving back to the community, having donated to local Delta-area elementary and high schools, churches and volunteer fire departments, and one year auctioned off autographed memorabilia from Oakland Raiders favorites including Ken Stabler and Ted Hendricks to support the athletic programs at Rio Vista High School and Delta High school. Recently, in August, state Senator Bill Dodd, whose district includes part of Sacramento County, named Giusti’s Place Sacramento County Small Business of the year.
“Mark and his family have really made a difference,” the senator said in a press release. “I applaud their many community contributions over more than a century. It’s a remarkable achievement. Small businesses like Giusti’s help make our towns special — and we must always support them.”
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