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Petrelli’s 80th anniversary Julie Lugo Cerra | Thu, Nov 03 2011 12:30 PM

 

            Culver City’s famous steak house had a humble beginning in 1931 on the land where it stands today. Its immigrant founder, Joe Petrelli, was born in Bari, Italy, in 1902. He came to this country at the age of 18 and found a job in the property department of M-G-M Studios. In his 15 years at the studio, Petrelli saved his money until he could open his first restaurant in 1931. “Joe Petrelli’s Airport Café,” across from a small airport, first drew three or four people at lunch and served 20 to 30 people at dinner, according to family records. When Hughes Aircraft moved nearby, it significantly increased Petrelli’s business.

            One night in 1938, under a cover of midnight darkness, Petrelli moved – basically slid that little restaurant across the street (Sepulveda Boulevard). Business was good, so he added on a little each year. To accommodate local families, he established a butcher shop/deli-style grocery behind, for which he coined the phrase “Shop while you are dining in.”

            Like his uncle Joe, George Petrelli came from Bari, Italy, at 18. The younger Petrelli trained in all aspects of the business by his uncle but specialized in the meat department because his uncle stressed that Petrelli’s customers would only be served the highest quality meats. George Petrelli describes his uncle fondly as a “beautiful man, with a heart as big as he was.” George, who often had coffee with his uncle, remembers him expressing concern over the future of the restaurant. “Uncle Joe always said he didn’t want to change the quality, quantity of food or service in the restaurant,” he said. “The only thing that could change was the price.” George Petrelli agreed 100%.

            In 1958, Joe Petrelli was ready to celebrate major remodeling, which included the opening of the new Pompeii Room, when he was tragically killed in an automobile accident.

            Now called “George Petrelli Famous Steaks,” it remains in the family. The restaurant moved back to its original site in 1995, to accommodate redevelopment. The Petrellis see their customers as “not merely patrons but part of the family, sharing their joys and sorrows.” A photographic retrospective of Petrelli’s shared local history decorates the restaurant.

            Patrons vary from families to an amazing range of politicos, as commemorated in the entry. Mrs. Petrelli, (Sophie, who always looks like she stepped out of a bandbox), greets everyone. George and Sophie met at the restaurant they continue in Joe’s style. They speak with pride of their two devoted children and three grandchildren. Their daughter Marie, who is also a pharmacist, is clearly continuing the family tradition with her warm presence. Their grateful attitude is common to immigrant families who bring their hopes, work ethic and family values to this country, in search for a better life. Looking back 80 years, Petrelli’s is the American Dream, realized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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