From Rick Caruso and Retail to Andre’s and Authenticity

Andre's restaurant's interior and serving area
Andre's restaurant's interior and serving area

As an alumnus of the USC Price School of Public Policy, I try to keep track of the many interesting and thought-provoking events that the school hosts and to attend them when I can. There was recently just such an event, where Dean Jack Knott had a conversation with renowned real estate developer and fellow Trojan Rick Caruso.

The event occurred at Pacific Theatres at the Grove. Mr. Caruso spoke about his business, his philanthropic endeavors, and his ideas for what makes places attractive and cities great. The success of his projects, such as the Grove at Farmers Market in Los Angeles and the Americana at Brand in Glendale is impressive. The process used to develop those projects is even more interesting. Mr. Caruso explained how his team researches the design of great places (from South Carolina to Florence, Italy) and aims to create not just a place to shop, but a place to enjoy spending time, feel relaxed, and create a physical and psychological association with the place.

Not to take anything away from that, my favorite part of the evening was the dinner I had afterwards, and not just because of the meal. Rather than eat at the Maggiano’s or the Cheesecake Factory at the Grove, I searched online for a place to eat outside of the Grove. And I found a treasure.

Located across the street, Andre’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria was a satisfying surprise. Based on the standard real estate measurements, the restaurant should be doomed to fail. Tucked at the back of a shopping plaza, the restaurant has no street frontage and very limited visibility from the street. Access to the “front” door requires walking through a small alley that the restaurant wisely uses for outdoor seating. Far from being a credit tenant (national or regional tenants who are so large that they will continue to pay rent even if a location fails), Andre’s only has a single location.

Yet more than 50 years after its opening, Andre’s continues, relying on affordable prices, friendly staff, and delicious food to keep customers coming back for more. The atmosphere is inviting and oozes authenticity. The food is served cafeteria style. The radio speakers play the songs of 50s crooners.

As successful as the restaurants and retail stores at places like the Grove are, they lack authenticity and edge. When the bottom line includes only dollars and cents, then of course Andre’s and its type cannot compete with the Maggiano’s of the world. But when the bottom line has room for heart and soul, then eateries like Andre’s are able to thrive.

So salute, Andre’s! Thank you for creating a haven for people seeking to eat in a unique restaurant, to experience something new and authentic, to enliven their evening in an unusual way. We need more restaurants and retailers like you. Here’s to the next 50 years of Andre’s!

Written by Dima Galkin who is an Analyst at RSG.