Philippe’s is best known for its legendary French dip sandwiches. But for regulars, nothing speaks to the eatery’s historic L.A. feel than the 9-cent coffee on the menu. And the 1 extra cent of tax.
Since 1977, the legion of longtime customers at the restaurant on North Alameda Street north of downtown Los Angeles had grown accustomed to putting a dime on the counter and getting a hot cup of coffee in return.
But on Wednesday, management posted a surprising sign on the door: Starting Feb. 2, the price of an eight-ounce brew is going up 400% — to 45 cents. Add 5 cent tax and the total price is 50 cents.
They say the cost of coffee is such that the restaurant can no longer keep its price so low.
“It’s been a tradition,” said Mark Massengill, whose family has run the restaurant for four generations. “We’ve always tried to provide a tremendous value in the food and coffee.” And, he said, coffee will be included in the price of a breakfast and, even after the hike, two quarters for coffee is still a bargain.
Patrons didn’t balk at the new price. Many said they were surprised it had stayed so low for so long. It’s just that not much at Philippe the Original has changed over the decades. And when things do, the customers notice.
On Wednesday, Lewis and Felicia Ward sat across from each other with French dips, just as they have for years. Once a month, the couple — they declined to give their age, only saying they’ve been coming to Philippe’s for 40 years — takes a bus and the Blue Line to come to Philippe’s from Seal Beach for a date or their anniversary. “It’s kind of an outing,” Felicia said with a smile.
As he has since he was a student at Chapman University, Lewis nursed a brown mug with black coffee. He shrugged at the price hike.
“I’d rather it didn’t,” he said. “I always look forward to the coffee, and the price is fabulous. It’s been a feature of Phillippe’s for so long.”
The tables at the restaurant at lunchtime Wednesday were lined with customers like the Wards, who, no matter how much the city has changed around them, found one place safe from time and inflation.
It’s a proudly old-fashioned place (established 1908). It doesn’t take credit cards, its floors are covered by sawdust, and its lines move like clockwork. A group of women wandered over to a booth of police officers just to say hello.
Ray Calderon, 73, an L.A. native who had since moved away, recalled when Philippe’s raised prices the last time, up from a nickel to a dime. Jeremy Witt, 33, of Torrance grew up coming to Philippe’s. By the early afternoon Wednesday, he was on his third cup of black coffee. “This will keep me going the rest of the day,” he said.
Wednesday was the first day Doree Frenczy, Sharon Stone and Amy Felsmann had been to Philippe’s. The three were traveling with a group from Sun City and were having coffee with their French dips. They couldn’t believe their coffees cost a dime.
“I thought that was just an old poster!” said Stone, 68, talking about a sign behind the counter. “I didn’t expect it to be 9 cents!”
To be certain, she pulled out her receipt to check. Sure enough, it listed three coffees, grand total: 27 cents.