Buying a car isn’t for the faint of heart: the haggling, the time suck, the wool pulled over one’s eyes. Even with the process largely moved online, it’s hard to shake the ghosts of fast-talking dealers from the past. One car dealership in the San Fernando Valley is turning this entrenched reputation on its head by providing food in addition to automobiles. While initially just a three-car, six-acre Ford showroom opened in San Fernando in 1946, Galpin Motors now spans seven brands and 60 acres on Roscoe Boulevard in North Hills, with satellite locations dotted throughout the Southland. During its nearly 80-year history, restaurants have played a pivotal role in the dealership’s success and continued dominance. By fostering a sense of hospitality and care, Galpin has grown to be one of the largest car dealerships in Los Angeles, with sales volumes that leave competitors in the dust.
“Most folks just want a painless experience,” says Beau Boeckmann, president of Galpin Motors. “We want it to be a fun experience. We want people to want to come back and enjoy coming back to the dealership rather than treat it like it’s going to the dentist.”
This philosophy dates back to Galpin’s founding. When Boeckmann’s father, Bert, who passed away on April 28 at the age of 92, relocated the original San Fernando dealership to North Hills in 1966 with Frank Galpin, they approached it like designing “America’s first automobile department store,” says Boeckmann. In addition to larger showrooms, the brand-new dealership also included a children’s playground, a nail salon, and a full-service, 100-seat diner called Horseless Carriage.
The way Bert saw it, the all-day restaurant and the other on-site amenities existed to serve Galpin’s car-buying and car-servicing customers. In addition to providing a point of differentiation in a crowded automobile market, a hot meal offered more appeal than an “old coffee machine and a half-eaten box of doughnuts,” says Boeckmann. Additionally, the Horseless Carriage removed some friction in the car-buying process by quelling hunger pangs without customers needing to leave the facility to grab a bite to eat. And while the smell of new cars certainly appeals to some, the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee and bacon crisping on a griddle is far superior.
Bert’s insightful whim to create an immersive customer experience way back when continues to influence Galpin’s business model today, although Boeckmann isn’t exactly keeping score. “It’s one of those things that’s hard to measure, but you know it’s important,” he says. “When you add a little joy to an experience, what’s that worth?”
Building on his father’s legacy, Boeckmann and his team aim to create a Grove-like experience wherever their brand reaches. Real estate mogul and recent mayoral candidate Rick Caruso’s Mid-Wilshire shopping mall “flipped the whole script” when it opened in 2002 by transforming a traditionally transaction-driven shopping experience into an immersive and pleasurable one, Boeckmann says. And he wants to do the same thing at Galpin, minus the quaint trolleys and inviting fountains.
“I think a lot of people aren’t looking at the car dealer experience the same way we are. Quite frankly, it’s more about the bottom line — more about measuring what’s happening today,” says Boeckmann. “I’m more concerned about what’s happening tomorrow. And I want our customers to have such an amazing experience today that they want to come back tomorrow.”
While the Horseless Carriage’s food offerings have always exceeded expectations — “There may be as many good choices in this coffee shop than there are on the entire Galpin lot,” restaurant critic Max Jacobson wrote in a largely glowing review of the diner for the Los Angeles Times in 1992 — Galpin hired chef Geovanni Euceda in 2002 from the Beverly Hills Hotel to elevate the quality and range of food even further.
“He just brought in an entirely next-level type of cooking and running the restaurant,” Boeckmann says. Under Euceda’s management, the menu expanded beyond diner classics to include expertly cooked steaks served with a demi-glace and the chef’s signature chicken fettuccine in a Champagne sauce. The second floor of the Ford showroom serves as a dedicated bakery, producing 80-plus fruit and cream pies daily.
“Many of the dishes here have a sort of layered feel to them, as if you’ve suddenly been given permission to eat some wonderfully exciting food combinations,” Courtney Lichterman wrote in LA Weekly in 2018. “Salmon potato-skin wrap, mango crab-stuffed chicken, and lobster and eggs are among the more imaginative dishes.” Soon, Euceda plans to prepare pasta and pizzas in-house and is converting the restaurant’s back room to make space.
In addition to Horseless Carriage, Galpin opened a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at its Mission Hills Honda lot in 1998 and a Starbucks inside its Roscoe Boulevard Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin store in 2001. Most recently, the dealership introduced a full-service German restaurant called Boxenstopp at its Porche outlet in Santa Clarita in 2020. The menu includes pretzels, sausages, schnitzel, and more.
“We want it to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to go to the restaurant and then maybe I shop for a car,’” says Boeckmann. “A lot of time, to be honest, people have pretty low expectations for car dealership food — I think I would. It’s fun to surprise people.”
While Galpin doesn’t officially keep track of the number of restaurant diners who go on to purchase cars at their dealerships, Euceda understands the power and pull of genuine hospitality. “People that try our food and really enjoyed it, they’re going to come back. And their family is eventually going to buy a car,” he says. “The concept of restaurant and dealership — I think it’s a no-brainer. It’s a must, especially if the food is good, the service is good, and they treat you well. That will trigger down a generation of sales.”
Galpin’s particular approach to the car-selling business has influenced others in the industry. In Nevada, Gaudin Ford was inspired by Galpin to open a diner called Mustang Sally’s in 2011, while Ricart Ford in Ohio installed a Subway to serve customers and employees alike. And though not directly attributed to Galpin’s practices, a full-service Starbucks is a welcomed perk at Longo Toyota in El Monte, while the Porsche Experience Center in Carson invites visitors to sit down for an elegant lunch at Restaurant 917 after pushing speed limits around the facility’s race track.
Looking toward the future, Galpin has grand ambitions to refine and expand on its winning formula. First, the Honda Cafe in Mission Hills with the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf will be converted into a taqueria by year’s end. Euceda plans to make corn and flour tortillas from scratch and serve a wide selection of proteins including carne asada, al pastor, and birria. Further, a sushi restaurant is planned for the currently under-construction Mazda facility, while a Swedish confectionery will go into the Volvo dealership; both projects are located on Roscoe Boulevard.
“Maybe they go over to Mazda and have the most amazing sushi meal, they come out, they really want a strong cup of coffee, so they go over to Volvo. They see that we’ve got this amazing selection of Swedish chocolates and other little desserts and have a little something there,” says Boeckmann. “So that’s the idea, creating these walking experiences.” While the culinary concepts that will reside in Galpin’s impending Lotus arm in Beverly Hills and Lincoln lot on Roscoe Boulevard are yet to be finalized, Boeckmann promises that it will “smell delicious when you walk in the showroom.”
These upcoming projects, which are slated to open at the end of this year and in early 2024, will continue to blur the lines between automobile dealership and experiential brand at Galpin. And though it is too soon to tell whether the growing collection of dining concepts will continue to move the needle as Horseless Carriage has, chef Euceda knows one thing is for sure: “When you have a full tummy, you’re happy.”
Update: May 3, 2023, 2:38p.m.: This article was updated to include the passing of Bert Boeckmann.