Emmett Shipman, Co-Founder of Ships Coffee Shops, Dies


Emmett Shipman, co-founder of Los Angeles’ classic 1950s Ships Coffee Shops, has died at his Brentwood home. He was 62.

A spokesman for the family said Friday that Shipman died Thursday of cancer.

Naming his 24-hour eateries for his Navy nickname, “Ships,” Shipman built three shops with shapes and signs depicting a futuristic rocket ship. The buildings were considered prime prototypes of “Modern Coffee Shop” architecture.


After 27 years and an estimated 25 million customers, Shipman was forced in 1984 to close the Westwood Ships he had opened in 1956 with his late father, Matt. The low-rise diner at busy Wilshire Boulevard and Glendon Avenue yielded to progress and a 20-story office tower.

But the Shipmans’ two other original coffee shops have stubbornly resisted street-widening attempts and other encroachments, and continue to do business at Olympic and La Cienega boulevards in Los Angeles, and at Overland Avenue and Washington Boulevard in Culver City.

Shipman’s trademark was a toaster at every table.

Installing the separate electricity lines was expensive. And customers delighted in stuffing the small appliances with objects other than bread, giving each machine a life span of about six weeks. But Shipman kept putting toasters on tables.

“It was the only way we could figure to make sure people got hot toast--let them do it themselves,” Shipman once told the Los Angeles Times.

“We use pure table cream, not half and half, and USDA prime beef,” he said once. “We make our own soups, sauces and gravy all from scratch.”

Shipman grew up in San Francisco and was graduated from St. Ignatius College Preparatory School and the University of San Francisco. He was a Navy lieutenant when his buddies dubbed him “Ships.”


Shipman is survived by his wife, Marilyn; his mother, Noreen; three sons and five grandchildren.

A vigil is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Martin of Tours Church, Sunset Boulevard at Saltair Avenue, Brentwood, and a funeral Mass will be celebrated there at 10 a.m. Monday.

The family has requested that any memorial donations be made to the Jonsson Cancer Center at UCLA.