Keeping The Dream Alive At Petrelli's
November 25, 2021
What do you call a beloved Culver City landmark that serves up conviviality and heart along with wonderful food and is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year?
George Petrelli Steakhouse, of course!
These days George's daughter, Marie Petrelli, seems to be channeling a hamster (albeit a very pretty one) whirling around on its little hamster wheel, its tiny feet going a mile a minute. Miraculously, I managed to get her to take a brief breather and be interviewed so that she could share memories regarding Petrelli's as well as what it's like to be a restaurateur during a pandemic.
"In 1931 my uncle, Joe Petrelli, an Italian immigrant, opened Petrelli's Airport Café in Culver City," she reminisced. "Numerous members of the Petrelli family worked in the family business for decades. One of those family members, George Petrelli, my father, also an Italian immigrant, came to work at the restaurant and was a meat cutter for over 50 years."
Marie's father continued to carry on his Uncle Joe's legacy in 1995 when he opened George Petrelli Steakhouse across the street at 5615 S. Sepulveda Blvd., its present location.
She recalled that "the prior night was pouring rain, and I was at the new restaurant trying to get things set up. It was past midnight, and people were still at the old one. I had a team set up, folding napkins, dusting, and getting the kitchen stocked. Albert Vera and his friends were helping to bring plates, pots, pans, etc. from across the street. We were all exhausted but kept at it all night."
Marie was determined to have everything perfect for her dad "who had worked so hard his entire life and finally deserved to see his name in neon lights. The young boy who left Italy and came to America with nothing in his pockets had finally attained his very own American dream."
Her mother, Sophie Petrelli, who works alongside her, told her that she and Marie's dad never wanted this kind of life for her.
"She would say that it's hard work and a tough business," Marie explained. "She always wants to make sure I'm happy. The choice to change careers from being a pharmacist to take over the family restaurant was easy for me and truly a labor of love. My mom and I feel the presence of my dad at the restaurant each and every day. It is where we are meant to be."
Growing up, the most important thing Marie learned from her dad was that even when facing the most challenging times of your life, you can never give up. That has certainly been front and center for her this past year and a half.
"It was closing time March 17, 2020, and I had to put a message on our answering machine saying we had been mandated to close because of COVID," she said. "I was overcome with emotion, and it took me several tries to do this. My mom couldn't understand why I couldn't stop crying, but I knew in my heart that there was something really bad on the horizon."
The next morning she met at the restaurant with longtime employee, Omar Gonzalez, and told him they had to reach out to friends and customers who needed the help that Petrelli's, with its stocked up refrigerators, was in a position to give. They started calling and dropping food off, a process they both continued for weeks.
"Then in April we started doing takeout, we would take orders over the phone, and it was just the two of us for months," she said. The financial hit was intense "but that didn't stop either one of us from showing up every day. My customers were scared, and they were grateful to be able to reach out to me any time, day or night, to talk and share their concerns."
In order to transition into safely reopening the dining rooms, Petrelli's invested in significant infrastructure additions and changes. Standard air filters were replaced by MERV 11 pleated air filters; iWave air purifiers were installed in each new air conditioning package unit; and CAP600-UV medical grade HEPA filtration systems were installed above the ceiling in the banquet and dining rooms.
"I followed all CDC guidelines and government mandates," Marie said, "but when they said restaurants could open for Father's Day, I made a tough decision to only bring in kitchen staff and stick to doing takeout orders only. We were just as busy as when we had dine in, minus the alcohol sales. I just knew it would be too soon for indoor dining, and shortly thereafter we had another shutdown. If you're not in the business, you don't know how devastating that is. None of us knew if we would make it. I felt the same emotions and fears my Uncle Joe and my dad must have felt as immigrants who came here with nothing. It was like starting over and I did it, from working in the kitchen to sweeping floors."
The takeout orders picked up, she gradually started bringing in more staff, "and once those doors reopened we were overwhelmed by regular and new customers, all so excited to come to eat at Petrelli's again. Many told me this was the first and only restaurant they ventured out to, and that made me proud and happy."
Longtime customer Peter Pierce stated that "the Petrelli family leads the way in serving the community. Always caring for first responders in times of crisis and for citizens in need far and wide, Petrelli's has donated thousands of meals throughout its decades of service. They do this work quietly, never seeking the limelight.
"At Petrelli's it's all about the customer who walks through the door, many of whom the Petrellis consider as extended family. As a friend and patron for many years now, I always make it a priority to visit and enjoy a steak or the to-die-for pork chops when I'm in town. The food is always perfectly prepared, and the service is prompt, professional, and friendly. If you haven't visited, make your reservation soon!"
Such customer loyalty has been a powerful contributor to Petrelli's longevity, as 90 years is an amazing accomplishment, and while I haven't yet tried the pork chops, I can rhapsodize with equal passion over their incredible lamb chops.
"Because of the pandemic, instead of having a large anniversary party like those in the past, I have done several smaller events throughout the year in our outdoor dining area," Marie explained. "We even have Ab-Soul-Ute as our house band at these events. They will be playing again on December 5th. Everyone has had such a wonderful time, so I have decided to have the band continue playing next year as well. Sometimes all you need is some good food, music, and friends. I think we have all learned to appreciate the simpler things in life.
"As far as the future of George Petrelli Steakhouse, the only change that I can foresee is expanding our outdoor dining area. It has really been a godsend to be able to host larger parties outdoors. My customers love it, and I love adding special touches that never go unnoticed. In this ever-changing world, I want this to be a place where different generations of families continue to make memories. I love to hear my customers tell me that dining here is like coming home, and I am looking forward to seeing families celebrating Thanksgiving with our traditional turkey dinner. I love to hear the laughter and see the smiles again. And, like my dad, I also love seeing our parking lot packed again! I feel humbled, blessed, and grateful to be able to serve this community that has shown me so much unwavering love and support."
George Petrelli Steakhouse
5615 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
Phone: (310) 397-1438