By Kathy Day
Watch Joe Allis interact with clients at Porsche of San Diego and you know he means it when he says he’s really in the hospitality business.
“It just happens to be on wheels,” said the newly minted Rancho Santa Fe resident. Allis took over the Miramar Road dealership in a partnership with the Kuni Automotive Group when the Vancouver, Wash., group purchased Pioneer Centers’ three San Diego dealerships and two in Denver. The deal closed in December; in March, Allis landed in San Diego.
When he arrived, he asked a lot of questions about how the store was performing — which was “marginal” in some areas, he said.
When he asked “where they were weakest,” the answer was Rancho Santa Fe.
That’s when he told his Realtor, “I have to live in Rancho Santa Fe.”
He wants to be part of the community where he can “shake hands and kiss babies,” he said with a broad smile. “It’s nice for people to know that their new neighbor is a business owner.”
Talk with him for even a short time and you’ll know that Allis is passionate about cars and how his customers are treated, so much so that all of his employees, from service to sales, attend Ritz Carlton management training classes.
“They are our brand ambassadors,” he said. “You can’t give five-star service if you don’t know what it means.”
He describes himself as “the consummate maitre d,’ ” noting that his dealership “is a five-star dealership that happens to sell cars. … We cater to clients who understand the difference between what’s necessary and what’s valuable.”
Allis says he’s “had the heart of a car guy since I was a little kid … I knew I would do something in the auto business.”
Growing up in Queens, he would set up dealerships with his Hot Wheels and other toy cars. His sister, who would always complain about her role, would be his customer.
He built models and would “do anything that had to do with cars,” including detailing neighbors’ cars at 12. He was 16 when his father decided to retire from the restaurant business.
But they didn’t really have enough to retire on, Allis recalled, so three years later his dad started a new venture.
“The closest car parts store was three miles away,” he said, so his father took the last of the family’s cash and went into the business, recognizing it was something needed in their neighborhood. And his 16-year-old son went to work for him, learning all about parts inventory and customer care.
Over the next 12 years, the business grew exponentially even though the senior Allis often had many customers “who were in over their skis” and owed them money.
[My] reaction was to “go take it all back,” Allis said. “[My father’s] reaction was to tell me to go find out what they were doing wrong. … He was teaching them how to fish.”
What he didn’t know then, Allis added, was that his father was giving him “the wherewithal to be a fixed operations manager.”
Meanwhile, he said, his mom was the “eternal referee,” stepping into the fray in the middle of the night when the father and son would disagree about the business.
There was a time while he attended St. John’s University, majoring in English and minoring in theology, when the auto business took a back seat, but now, he said, “If anyone around here wants help with a dangling participle, I can help.”
But that passion for cars took over and he got a job at a “mega dealership” on Long Island that sold Mercedes, BMW, Rolls Royce, Bentleys and Acura.
“The place embodied what paying more to get more meant,” Allis noted, adding that at that point in his life he didn’t have a connection with affluent people. “My beginnings were really humble.”
His first car was a 1969 Chevy Biscayne, “with nothing, no AC, radio, nothing, but I loved it anyway. She was my first love.”
His second was a 1979 Toyota Celica with a Frank Frazzetta mural of the “silver warrior” emblazened across it.
At that first job, he quickly made an impression on the owner who gave him his first true challenge.
Faced with an Acura lot full of the first Legends on the market, the man — an Armenian immigrant who required people to remove their shoes before entering his office — took him into the showroom.
“All of the sales people and manager were standing around,” Allis said.
When the owner asked how many had been sold, the response was “none” and he turned to Allis and said, “Make these cars go away.”
When he asked how he expected him to accomplish that, the man just told him to make it happen.
“It was a Saturday afternoon. I went right to church and prayed for four hours,” Allis said.
Within a 10 days they had sold 70 cars and in 12 days were out of Legends.
“[The owner] said, ‘Good job,” Allis said. “I said I had nothing to do with it. I just lit every candle in church.”
His boss responded, “Well then you did have something to do with it.”
He also had something to do with helping a woman one day. Noticing that she was wandering around and that no one was paying attention to her, he offered to help. She told him she had been to two other dealerships where she had also been ignored until he stepped up and helped her find the BMW she was shopping for.
“I am the father of daughters,” he said with a smile. “I have been given a profound respect for women.”
The respect he showed that customer has paid off in spades. She returned a few days later with her husband who coincidentally was the manager of Audi of America.
Telling him his wife had convinced him that Allis was “somebody special,” he gave him his business card and told him to call if he could ever be of help.
A couple of weeks later, Allis inadvertently left a door open when he was supposed to be responsible for closing the dealership. That led to an incident with a service manager who swore at Allis as he was trying to help a customer who had come to pick up his new car. Unwilling to put up with the situation, he quit.
And that business card led him to a general manager position with a new concept dealership known as the Audi Forum at the corner of Park Avenue and Fourth in New York City, where Allis worked for the next 14 years. From there, he moved on to a dealership in Englewood, N.J., five and a half miles away from midtown Manhattan that had essentially the same clientele. He began running a Porsche dealership out of the service area for their Audis.
For six years he ran it as if it was his own. And then in February of this year he was approached by Kuni, who he called the “quintessential auto concern” about coming to San Diego.”
“Their initial candidate had backed out and they reached out to me,” Allis said, explaining that they wanted him to buy in as a partner.
But he told them them, while flattered, he couldn’t accept because of family ties.
“My parents are getting on,” he said.
While he had talked to his wife Lisa about the offer, he hadn’t told his parents. But Lisa let it slip while talking to her mother -in-law.
“One night my dad called and said to stop by the house,” Allis said, noting that he knew he was in for one of Dad’s “talks.”
“Why would you turn down a spot in paradise to sell Porsches,” his dad asked him.
When he told him it was because of family, Dad replied, “What makes you think we wouldn’t come out there too?”
Thinking it was too late, Allis figured he’d learned a lesson. But not too long after, the recruiter called and asked him if he knew anyone else who might be qualified.
“I just asked if I could throw my hat back in the ring,” he said.
In it went and here he is, although he’s still commuting back to New York regularly while his family makes the transition west.
He knows the decision was the right one.
“I’d heard that some people are in the wrong body,” he said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I always felt I was on the wrong side of the country.”
As a youngster, he suffered from “awesome depression” in the winter, but in the summer “you couldn’t hold me down.”
He was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder and began using full spectrum lights and the condition improved.
But when he first visited San Diego six years ago, he said he knew this was the place he was going to be.
“I still pinch myself every morning.”
For more information, visit
; 9020 Miramar Road San Diego, CA 92126; (858) 695-3000.
Proprietor, Porsche of San Diego. Active membership in the prestigious, invitational Porsche Business Forum (a council on business-building techniques for Porsche dealers). Honored by Audi of America for outstanding achievement nine consecutive years; credited by Porsche Cars of North America and Porsche Financial Services for outstanding achievements every year since 2006. Assisted in authoring the New York state insurance regulation 64M for fair and equitable claims settlement practices for consumers.
Married to Lisa for 27 years; Daughters Gabrielle, 19, is a student at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, and Gina, 25, is a senior buyer at Lululemon athletic.
Porsches, Porsches and, of course, Porsches.
Biographies or anything Grisham
Recently ”The Artist”; of all time: “Toy Story.”
San Diego, oh that’s right I live here now. I’ll be more specific, Rancho Santa Fe. It’s the most beautiful place on earth. Why get away?
My Mom and Dad tell me their “goal” in having a family was to make every attempt to make this world a better place. My philosophy is to fulfill their goal.