It must be in the genes.
Albert Khalbourji has wanted to own his own business for as long as he can remember. This isn’t surprising considering his parents, Robert and Mona Khalbourji, own two small businesses across the street from each other in Weymouth Corners — Golden Treasure Jewelers and Mandyz Boutique, respectively.
What is surprising — and what makes this a real San Pedro story — is that Albert’s recent foray into entrepreneurship puts him next door to his folks, literally, with the Khalbourji family’s recent purchase of Pirozzi’s Italian Deli, the iconic San Pedro establishment on the corner of 8th and Weymouth that began in the 1970s, which Albert will own and operate with the help of his family.
“I’ve always wanted my own restaurant. I’ve always had a passion for it,” says Albert, 27. “My parents have it, also. My mom grew up in restaurants.”
Five years ago, the Pirozzi family, led by family patriarch Vince, sold the deli they had reopened in 2012 to restauranteurs John and Debbie Toman. At the time of the sale, Albert was only 22 and not yet ready to tackle a business on his own, but Robert took note of his son’s interest and let the Tomans know that if they ever decided to sell the deli, they were interested.
“Basically, my dad and I had a vision of owning [Pirozzi’s] one day, and then Vince sold it to John, the previous owner,” remembers Albert. “John sold it to us eventually, but five years ago, my dad and I started knocking on John’s door saying, ‘Whenever you want to sell, let us know.’”
Robert adds, “Every time I asked John [if he wanted to sell the deli], he kept telling me, ‘Next year. Next year. Not now.’ Every year, I felt like we were getting closer. [This year], they decided to sell.” The deal closed earlier this year with financial details kept private.
The Khalbourji family has called Weymouth Corners home for over two decades.
It began in 2001 when Robert opened Golden Treasure Jewelers in the quiet shopping neighborhood next door to Pirozzi’s Italian Deli. Nine years later, Mona launched her retail clothing store, Mandyz Boutique, named after their daughter Amanda, directly across the street.
“It’s great having our businesses here,” says Mona.
While the parents were busy with their stores, Albert and Amanda were experiencing the trials and tribulations of youth and figuring out their futures. Amanda, 24, worked at a nail salon in Redondo Beach before recently quitting to help the family businesses. “I come in every day to help if I’m needed, either at the deli, Mandyz, or Golden Treasure,” she says.
Before the deli, Albert worked at his aunt’s restaurant in Laguna Beach for a short time before landing an uninspiring job in automobile sales and financing.
“I had two years of food industry experience and seven years in the car business. I did sales and finance, all that stuff,” says Albert. “I just got tired of the car business. Then [the deli] opportunity came, and I was like, ‘Let’s do it. This is the time.’ It was something I really wanted to do.”
CARRYING ON THE LEGACY
Pirozzi’s Italian Deli is one of the few notable San Pedro businesses still around from the 1970s. Vince and Mary Pirozzi purchased the building where Peterson’s Market was on 8th and Weymouth in 1974 and soon changed the market’s name to Pirozzi’s Food Center. They ran the San Pedro staple until 1983, when Vince decided to step down as owner, so his children weren’t forced to continue the family business.
The deli changed ownership a few times before closing for good in 2000. Wanting to get back into the deli business, the Pirozzi family reopened Pirozzi’s Italian Deli in October 2012 in the same location as the old market, much to the delight of San Pedrans who missed a good, old-fashioned Italian market in the Weymouth Corners neighborhood.
When asked what their future plans are for the deli, Mona quickly chimes in.
“We’re not changing anything,” she says. “We want to make a point of that.”
A Lebanese family owning an Italian deli might seem unconventional. Still, the deli has had owners of various ethnicities through the years without changing its Italian heritage or the quality of its food and products. Plus, the Khalbourjis have Vince’s stamp of approval, which is all they need.
“I can’t ask for better people,” says Vince, 79, praising the Khalbourji family. “This family has been in this building for over 20 years.”
While he doesn’t own the business carrying his name anymore, Vince still owns the building and remains the deli’s landlord. He’s also become a fixture in the shop once again, coming and going as he pleases, working behind the counter, and volunteering his time and wisdom to Albert, teaching him the little things that only someone with more than 60 years of experience can impart.
“I’ve been doing this for 62 years, most of my life,” says Vince. “I come and help here and there. When I get tired, I leave.”
True to Mona’s word, you wouldn’t know anything has changed when you visit the deli today. If the “Under New Ownership” banner wasn’t hanging outside, most customers wouldn’t notice much of a difference. The shelves might be rearranged, but they’re stocked with the same imported Italian and Croatian foods and desserts. The deli serves the same sandwiches and sides as before. And you can find the same high-quality meats and cheeses that Pirozzi’s Italian Deli is known for.
The Khalbourjis would like to keep it that way.
“People do ask us for kebobs or other Middle Eastern foods sometimes, but we’re not turning it into that,” says Mona. She adds that they may add a few easy-to-prepare items to the menu, like homemade hummus, but that’s all they’ve planned so far.
‘IT’S LIKE A FAMILY’
On Saturday, October 8, at 10 a.m., the Khalbourjis will host a public ribbon cutting event celebrating their new ownership. Councilman Joe Buscaino will be on hand to lead the ceremony, and the deli will be offering food specials until 5 p.m.
“We’re really excited,” says Robert, adding that the family has received nothing but kind words and support from their Weymouth Corners business neighbors and customers on their new endeavor.
“We’re all so grateful to John and Debbie [Toman] for this opportunity, and to Vince for allowing us to continue his legacy,” adds Mona.
All three businesses are mere feet away from each other, making the corner of 8th and Weymouth a true family affair. Some might think that being around your family day in and day out might be a bit too much, but Albert says it’s the best part of the job, especially since his family time has been lacking in recent years.
“Us being Lebanese, we’re raised in very strong families. Family is number one. And that’s what I love. I love being around my family,” says Albert. “Obviously, like any other family, we can have hiccups along the road, but at the end of the day, it’s all love.”
He continues, “For the last six or seven years, I haven’t stepped foot in Weymouth Corners. I was always working, dealership to dealership, long hours. So, I’d always miss family occasions, family parties, and stuff like that. Now that I’m out of the car business and running the deli, I have the luxury to always be around my family, and I love it.”
“In Weymouth Corners, everybody knows everybody,” says Mona. “That’s the great thing about San Pedro. You can’t beat it. It’s like a family. And then when they come into our stores, we want to treat them like family.” spt
Pirozzi’s Deli is located at 1453 W. 8th Street in Weymouth Corners. For more info, call (310) 548-0000 or visit pirozzisdeli.com.