Iconic Restaurant Was His Labor of Love
By Stephen Hadland
After waging a courageous battle against his illnesses, noted Culver City restaurateur George Petrelli passed away on Friday, May 30, at his home with his family by his side.
His daughter Marie said he died peacefully and with dignity "while I held his hand." She called to mind his favorite song by Frank Sinatra, "I did it my way." "Truly, he left this world his way," Marie added.
Many Culver City residents expressed their shock and sadness at the passing of George Pretrelli and some talked about his personality, warmth and gentle nature.
"Whenever you walked into his steakhouse, it was like going to a family dinner during the holidays," many residents recalled. They remember George scurrying from table to table greeting and conversing with his customers. They said that he knew people by their first name and would ask about them and their families. "He would sit and chat with his customers while his wife Sophie and their staff took care of getting orders and serving," one resident said. "To George, it was the people that were important."
To some, it was no small coincidence that George died one day short of the fourth anniversary of his dearest friend, Albert Vera, the owner of Sorrento Market and former Culver City Mayor and Councilman.
Albert's son, also named Albert Vera, posted on Sorrento's Facebook page of Saturday, "It is with sadness that I reflect on the passing of George Petrelli yesterday, a great friend of my family's and to all of Culver City. This picture reminds me how close George and my dad were, their closeness no better symbolized than the coincidence that Dad passed away four years ago today. The friendship George and my Dad enjoyed in life, I am sure they are busy renewing again. I have greatly missed Dad these past four years, just as I will miss George, but we are lucky that they both left us so much to remember them by. Their kindness and generosity will still be felt for years to come."
George Petrelli was born in Bari, Italy on June 20, 1937 and left his country when he was 18 years old. Three days after arriving in Culver City, he went to work for his "beloved" Uncle Joe Petrelli at what was then Joe Petrelli's Steakhouse. George always called his uncle a "beautiful man." Living the "America Dream," George worked as busboy, dishwasher and other jobs at Petrelli's until the day his uncle gave him his favorite job as meat cutter, which he revered for over 50 years. When talking about his uncle, George would proudly and emphatically state, "My Uncle Joe always told me to serve the finest quality meat and I have adhered to his wishes all these years."
George took over Petrelli's years ago and it became George Petrelli's Famous Steakhouse. He was on hand two years ago when Petrelli's celebrated its 80th anniversary. Albert Vera was instrumental in helping George build the current restaurant facility when the old restaurant property across the street was taken over by the city redevelopment agency in the 1990's.
A few years ago, a beaming George came over to a local reporter upon entering the restaurant. "We just served the Secretary of State," he told him. She told George she wasn't interested in a chain restaurant; she wanted a "real" steakhouse and she found Petrelli's.
George had many hobbies. Every Saturday, George donned his overalls, loaded his truck with supplies and headed to his ranch in Acton and took care of his crops. He grew fruit trees, rose bushes, orchids, but he dotted on his pumpkin patch. He made sure his grandchildren had the biggest pumpkins on the block, even if they sometimes weighed 150 pound. He was also an avid hunter.
Intensely proud of his adopted country, George was always looking for ways to give back the land that gave him so much. His chance came during the Los Angeles riots in 1992. National Guard troops had arrived in Culver City and neighboring communities and George worked around the clock, refusing to leave the restaurant so he could feed the troops. He didn't care what they wanted; from burgers to steaks he directed his staff to feed the soldiers.
George is survived by his wife Sophie, children Marie and Sal (Cindy), and his three grandchildren Patrick, Katelyn and Shannon.
The week before his passing, George fulfilled his last promise to his granddaughter Shannon and was driven to Acton to attend her graduation.
George always had a positive look at life. When people would ask him how business was, he always replied, "Things are great, they couldn't be better, I have been truly blessed. I've had a wonderful life."
That's the way George Petrelli would want to be remembered.