Back in the Day: Fairfield Delicatessen became Joe’s Buffet

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By Tony Wade
(originally published in the Fairfield Daily Republic Sept. 19, 2014)

For many Solano County locals, the mere mention of two words can make their mouths water like Pavlov’s dogs. Those two words are “Joe’s Buffet.”

Add five more words, “au jus roast beef sandwich,” and most will be in full drool mode.

Saeb and Nabiha Ziadeh have owned the landmark eatery for more than 30 years now, but the original owners were Joe and Isabel Lozano.

At the business’s grand opening, on Feb. 27, 1953, it was called the Fairfield Delicatessen. The Lozano’s son, Bob, worked there throughout high school and college. Their daughter, Eleanor Lozano Cullum, helped with bookkeeping.

The shop was located as it is today at 834 Texas St., but when it opened, the Lozanos shared the space with the Fairfield Meat Market, owned by Bud and Marge Freitas. When customers walked in, the meat market was on the left and the deli was on the right.

The Fairfield Delicatessen’s original fare included homemade salads, seafood, roasted meats, imported and domestic cheese, enchiladas, cold meats, party snacks and ice cream.

“My mom made all the salads from scratch and her potato salad was phenomenal. Then my dad got the idea to sell pies and my poor mother had to make all these lemon meringue pies,” Eleanor Lozano Cullum said. “Every six months, he came up with something else. He tried selling tacos way before Taco Bell or anything like that. He’d pick up homemade tortillas from a guy in Vallejo because they didn’t sell them in stores like they do now.”

“When we opened, the population in Fairfield wasn’t that big, so it was a struggle at first,” Bob Lozano said. “It was basically a farming community, so we started trying new things. We sold fresh fish that we would get from Oakland and that was new to Fairfield then. I remember seeing live crabs crawling around the kitchen floor. I became an expert at cleaning crabs.“

The pastrami on rye sandwich the Fairfield Delicatessen served was a hit with military transplants from the East Coast, especially New Yorkers. The potato salad was served right on the sandwiches and reminded them of ones they enjoyed back home.

The restaurant expanded when the Fairfield Meat Market closed. The dining area that now features photos of rock ‘n’ roll icons was at that time Freitas Toggery, and was only added much later.

The delicatessen evolved into Joe’s Buffet because Joe Lozano responded to customers.

“My dad had a shelf with really good French bread and people would ask him to make them a sandwich using a French roll and our good quality cold cuts,” Bob Lozano said. “They would stand at the counter and eat. That went on for a few years until Dad added a counter with five or six stools so they could sit down.”

Soon lunch lines snaked out of the door onto the sidewalk. In addition to Armijo High School students, many local political movers and shakers hung out there as well.

Many recall Joe Lozano as quite a character. “Crotchety” is a common descriptor. Bob Lozano describes him as sometimes being a real-life “Soup Nazi” like to the fictional one on “Seinfeld.”

“If a customer wanted something unusual he would tell them, ‘No, you can’t have that!’ or if someone wanted cheese on their roast beef he would tell them, ‘You don’t put cheese on roast beef sandwiches . . . NEXT!’ “ Bob Lozano said.

But there were other sides to Joe as well.

Bob Lozano was a member of the Pizzarino boys, who were Armijo High jocks/pranksters during the 1950s. The night before football games, Joe Lozano would host a steak dinner for the entire team.

He would also help out local kids, who would now be deemed “at-risk,” through a work-experience program at Armijo.

“One young man came back years later and thanked my dad for pointing him in the right direction. I believe he became a city manager in some city down south,” Bob Lozano said. “At closing time, sometimes the poorer people in town would come in and he would feed them for free. He was a great example for me.”

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at toekneeweighed@gmail.com.