Petrelli's 85th Anniversary – A Celebration to Savor
Daughter Marie Recalls Fondest Memories
November 11, 2016
Hopefully, many of us will be around as long as the George Petrelli Famous Steakhouse, a Culver City landmark and true hallmark of delicious dining with an 85th anniversary celebration planned for Sunday, Nov. 13 that includes an 85¢ hamburger special, a classic car display, entertainment, and more.
This family-owned business originated with Joe Petrelli, who came here from Italy when he was 18, worked in the property department of MGM, saved his money, opened Joe Petrelli's Airport Cafe where the present restaurant is located, and later moved it across the street to have more space.
"He brought my dad over from Italy when Dad was 18," said Marie Petrelli, George Petrelli's daughter. "Dad came over with holes in his shoes. He was from a very poor family, and his Uncle Joe trained him in the business. Dad became the meat cutter for the restaurant for over 50 years."
She remembered how "my father always wanted his uncle to be proud of him. Once, in the middle of the night, Dad went out to the parking lot and put up all the parking posts. The next day his uncle was so surprised and couldn't believe what he had done, and Dad was very happy. He loved his uncle and was always so grateful to him."
In 1958 tragedy struck. It was raining, Joe Petrelli had driven a waitress home, and on his way back was killed in a head-on collision.
"My dad was not an owner of the restaurant, he was a worker," Marie Petrelli said, adding that "in the late '80s the family members who were the major shareholders decided to sell the restaurant since the City of Culver City was planning to develop that area. Dad was devastated, he felt as if his life was over, he was heartbroken, and my mother, Sophie, was very stressed. It was a terrible time. So, Dad went to the city council. The room was packed with loyal customers and friends and he pleaded to be permitted to lease the premises month-to-month before the redevelopment plans would be solidified. The city agreed, the community really rallied behind him, and we continued to be in business."
Sometimes a situation that seems bleak at the time can take a surprising and positive turn, because the arrangements with the city to develop that area as restaurant row fell through. The Petrelli tradition of hospitality and generous servings of delicious food, including USDA choice beef that is dry-aged and custom cut on the premises, continued, and "in 1994 the redevelopment agency offered my parents a loan to build a new restaurant. Our current location, where it all originally started, was available, and in 1995 we crossed the street to our new restaurant and the George Petrelli Famous Steakhouse was open for business!"
Sophie Petrelli commented on a photograph in the lobby showing her crossing Sepulveda Blvd. for the big move, flanked by Albert Vera, her husband's dearest friend at her right and her husband, carrying the American flag, at her left.
"I'd been caring for my mother, who died just six months before," she said, "and I was trying so hard not to cry. I wish she could have seen the sign on the new restaurant with my husband's name."
"It used to embarrass me because my dad would always brag to his customers about me, his daughter the pharmacist," Marie Petrelli said, "and now I'm always bragging about him! My life is beautiful because he had the struggles. He'd never say no and always supported charities, especially anything to do with veterans. When we had the National Guard in Culver City in 1992 he kept the restaurant open 24 hours to take care of them. He loved being an American and was so grateful, so generous, humble, hardworking, genuine, nothing fake about him, and that's why people really loved him."
The USC graduate with a doctorate in pharmacy could have been describing the ingredients in a prescription to ensure success as a decent human being. And that her dad, who passed away in 2014, certainly was as many Culver City residents agree.
At her graduation in 1987 "my dad was crying like a baby because he never imagined that anyone from his family would graduate with such a degree. He was so proud he had put both of his kids through college and we had been the first of the Petrelli family to go to college. I have a great brother, Sal, who is successful in his own business, and I can always call on him as we're very close and supportive of each other."
Memories of her dad's green thumb made her smile.
"Every Saturday he would drive up to the ranch in Acton," she said. "There was nothing he couldn't grow: orchids, apples, oranges, pomegranates, pumpkins, you name it. He'd bring back pumpkins for the school kids and fruits and vegetables for the customers. 'It's all organic,' he'd say."
She described her transition from pharmacist to restaurateur.
"On weekends I would take off my white coat as a pharmacist and come in and work here, but the last 15 years I've been here full time," she explained. "Petrelli's is where my heart is. I asked customers what they think of when they think of Petrelli's and they tell me, 'Coming home, comfort, family, friends, laughter.'
I work side by side with my mom daily. This is where I can make the most impact on people's lives. Whether we sit for a chat, laugh, put together a gingerbread house or discuss medication, it's where I am meant to be. This is my home away from home where I feel my dad's presence every day. My dream is to keep his dream alive."
There is a lesson to be savored and ingested along with the fare at Petrelli's, a Culver City treasure that exemplifies the realization of the American dream through dedication, hard work, foresight and contribution to one's community. Bravissimo, congratulazioni and mille grazie to the Petrellis, past, present, and future, for embracing this community as their extended famiglia.
On a personal note, this writer can attest, having dined at Petrelli's since 1984, to always having been warmly welcomed and departing fully sated and blissfully smiling.
George Petrelli Famous Steakhouse
5615 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
Phone: (310) 397-1438