The Cusumano family are some of the Burbank–Toluca Lake area’s biggest fans. “We’ve always had a lot of faith that this would be a great place for businesses to come and for people to live,” says Michael Cusumano, president of the Cusumano Real Estate Group. “We started investing here a long time ago, really from the very beginning of our company, because we thought it was such a great community.”
That belief was formed through firsthand experience, over decades of living and working here. Founded in 1959 by Roger and Chuck Cusumano — Michael’s father and uncle, respectively — the real estate investment firm has built and maintained commercial, office and residential properties throughout the area and helped to promote Burbank’s growth through development, civic involvement and philanthropy. Michael was steeped in local life from a young age, raised in southern Burbank and Toluca Lake and playing football at John Burroughs High School.
“It was a great place to grow up, a really family-oriented community,” he remembers. “We would walk to Bob’s Big Boy and Patys. There were a lot of kids, and sports were an important part of the social scene — playing, practicing, selling candy door to door to raise money, and going to Bob’s after the games.”
Those experiences would eventually connect him with Caroline, now his wife of 28 years, who grew up on the north side of town and was a star athlete at Burbank High School — where she still holds four swimming records. Four years apart in age, the two knew of each other through sports and mutual friends, but didn’t meet until Caroline came home for a visit during college break. As their romance blossomed, she says, favorite date-night spots included “Black Angus, Bobby McGee’s and Don Cuco on Riverside Drive. We had our second date there, and I swear when we went back 30 years later, the same waiter was still working there.”
They reminisce about Barone’s, Tony’s Deli (“We’ve eaten there since we were little. They have the best sandwiches,” Caroline notes) and other local favorites, which they kept returning to even after eventually moving out of the area. “We would drive in from wherever we were to have brunch at Moe’s, for years,” Michael says. “We really miss that place.”
Restaurants weren’t the only things they saw changing over the years. “They used to call it Mayberry,” Caroline says, recalling Burbank’s sleepy suburban reputation.
“There was a time when there wasn’t even a single movie theater in Burbank,” Michael adds, “even though it was a movie capital of the world. And now downtown Burbank has evolved into a real destination point, which it wasn’t when we were growing up — it was the Golden Mall. Now, there’s a lot of great stuff to do, great comedy, a great vibe.”
Much of that change was spearheaded by the Cusumano Group. “We saw what a great place Burbank was to live and work and raise a family, and that’s primarily the reason that we have focused a lot of our business on this community,” says Michael, who got his start in the family company as he was growing up, “working on construction sites and cleaning apartments.” That hands-on experience “gave me a unique insight into the opportunities that existed in Burbank. After I went to UCLA and got a degree in economics, I was able to engage in the business in a new way that my family hadn’t done before.”
Over the years, Michael says, the company “pursued some projects that other people were maybe a little bit skeptical of, because we’ve always felt that people would come to Burbank given the chance.” As an example, he points to the construction of the company’s four-story headquarters and an adjacent restaurant (then a Bobby McGee’s and now a BJ’s) at the corner of First Street and Olive Avenue in the mid-1980s. “It doesn’t sound like a lot now, but that was a big step,” he explains. “Bobby McGee’s was hesitant to come because they had this kind of crazy nightclub environment and they didn’t know that they would do well in Burbank. A lot of people didn’t think it would work. But from day one it was packed; it was a huge home-run success.” That project and subsequent developments helped transform the downtown area into a bustling, desirable location.
Perhaps the most significant expression of the family’s confidence in their hometown was the long journey to create Talaria, a luxury residential community that opened in the Media District in early 2019. “We had to have a real commitment to the city to build a project like this, and to take the time and invest what it took to make this happen,” Michael says. It was a prime location near the freeway and film studios, with easy access to Toluca Lake’s amenities, but making it work was far from simple. After another developer struggled for years and ultimately failed to develop the property, the Cusumano Group took a leap of faith and stepped in — just before the economy melted down in the 2008 financial crisis. It took more than 10 years to cobble together the site’s 24 separate parcels of land, then design and build a facility worthy of the spectacular location while addressing concerns about impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Whole Foods Market, which had been trying to open a Burbank location for over a decade, offered to operate a flagship store on site, and the design evolved from there.
“There was huge demand for multifamily housing in the city of Burbank, and we wanted to do it at a level that’s never been done before,” Michael explains. “There were some skeptics who thought there’s not a market in Burbank for projects at this level, but we really thought that there would be demand. We also thought we needed to build the sort of amenities that didn’t exist in any other project in the city.” Brainstorming innovative features was a family affair: Michael and Caroline’s son Tanner, a film buff, suggested and designed a world-class movie screening room. Caroline devised an on-site blow-dry salon, and as a passionate advocate for animals, recommended pet-friendly perks like a private dog park and a pet spa. These creature comforts help to not only attract residents, but also mitigate concerns about added traffic in the area. “We had this idea that if you included all the sorts of things that you do in your day here on site, residents wouldn’t need to get in their cars,” Michael explains. “So there’s an ATM, a pickup and dropoff for your dry cleaning, great gym, great lap pool, Whole Foods for your groceries. We tried to create this environment where people don’t have to drive, and it’s worked. Instead, it creates a tremendous amount of foot traffic from the surrounding neighborhood.” That fits the complex’s eco-friendly aesthetic — in fact, Talaria is Burbank’s only LEED Gold-certified residential building.
What’s most important to the Cusumanos is the sense of community being fostered among the diverse mix of residents, which includes families and retirees as well as members of the entertainment industry. “There are a lot of things that happen here that don’t happen at other places of this type — social functions, pool parties, brunches — and we have a great turnout,” Michael says. “It’s all reflective of what we thought there was a potential for, and it’s really exciting to see that realized.”
That community pride extends beyond the Cusumanos’ professional projects to encompass a wide range of civic and charitable contributions in and around the Burbank area. Caroline is actively involved in Mending Kids, which provides life-saving surgical care for sick children, and Shelter Hope Pet Shop, which finds homes for animals in desperate need (“we’ve got a house full of rescues,” her husband notes). “Philanthropy has been a big part of our world for a long time,” Michael says, beginning with the example set by his grandmother Anita, who volunteered at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center for decades. The family has continued her legacy by giving generously to the hospital over the years. “Saint Joe’s is a little bit like Burbank, because it’s this big, amazing world-class institution, but at the same time it’s got a hometown characteristic to it,” says Michael, who chairs the Board of Governors for Providence Saint Joseph Foundation, a group of community leaders dedicated to fundraising efforts. “We’re excited because we’ve got a really important $78 million campaign that we’re in the midst of right now, far and away the largest philanthropic endeavor that’s ever taken place in the city of Burbank, and we’ll be formally breaking ground on a spectacular new emergency services department in March or April of next year. It’s going to be more than three times as big and will provide an even higher level of care to meet the growing needs of this community.”
That’s just one instance of the robust growth and exciting possibilities he foresees in the Burbank area’s future, but he’s equally conscious of its enduring traditions. “Burbank continues to be an incredibly vibrant community, both as a place to live and economically,” he says. “It’s changed in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways it hasn’t, which is kind of refreshing. It’s evolved, and now all these great corporations are doing business here, but it still has that sense of place.” For him, that feeling harkens back to the annual neighborhood events he enjoyed while growing up, like the Toluca Lake Holiday Open House and the Magical Christmas Caroling Truck, and the iconic local spots the family always returns to at this time of year for festive meals — Bob’s, Prosecco Trattoria (Caroline raves about the tomato caprese, while Michael loves the handmade ravioli) and, of course, the Smoke House, where they’ve celebrated every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and holiday season for decades. “I had my 18th birthday party there,” Michael remembers. “I’ve been getting their prime rib for 50 years.” And, like so many of us, Caroline is smitten with the famous garlic bread: “I hope they never change it. We actually bring it to all our parties!”
Whether through enjoying a favorite restaurant, helping the hospital or completing a development project, it’s this feeling of continuous connection that keeps the Cusumanos deeply invested in the Burbank area. “Those sorts of elements bring that hometown feel to a huge city,” Michael explains. “You still have that sense of being part of a community that cares.”