Somewhere in an obscure corner of Los Angeles, CA is this obscure shack, its surrounding property, and a secondary parking lot and storage building on the crossing of Beverly and Rampart. They serve burgers and hot dogs, and it outshines everything else, with the possible exception of In-n-out Burger
- and they actually manage to do better business than the Taco Bell
across the street, all of this
with word-of-mouth advertising
Tommy's. Or, more officially, The Original Tommy's World Famous Hamburgers.
To anyone who lives in Los Angeles, many people in the surrounding areas, and an ever-increasing number of people throughout the world, they know what that word means. It means a little place that serves some of the best fast food anywhere at any time of day or night, and paradoxically, can get it to you hot off the griddle in mere seconds during a peak rush, simply by predicting the loads with stunning accuracy.
Not bad for such a small place that implores you one thing: If you don't see the shack, take it back.
Some time in 1946, a young Tom Koulax, the son of Greek
immigrants, opened up a small hamburger stand on Beverly Blvd. and Rampart Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA. Initially, he just sold hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs, all topped with his own recipe of a con carne and flour based chili (which inexplicably works, despite having not a whole lot more than the nutritive qualities of white flour), onions, tomatoes, a bit of mustard, some dill pickle chips, and that's it. (Low carb dieters, take note - the chili on these things is regretfully not Atkins compatible.) Thing is, it didn't really take off for him until the 1960s, when business started to pick up - at which point he purchased the entire corner that he is located on, and later purchasing a property across the street for additional parking and storage just to accomodate the sheer load of customers. The expansion brought with it some ramshackle building additions to accomodate the bits you see on the side - general crowd control, stacks and stacks of paper towels, little buckets of chili peppers, extra paper cradles, and the coolers that the cans of soda were stored in.
(The building in the opposite lot, by the way, is labelled
"Tomasito's" or something ridiculously similar. I asked about this one day, and it's not much more than coincidence - the building used to be a Mexican restaurant that wasn't related to the burger stand. It was serendipitous, however, that the diminuitive of the Spanish equivalent of Thomas was labelling the building. And no, it wasn't Ptomaine Tommy's, either. =) )
Sometime in the 1970s, Koulax began to expand his ventures and opened a small handful of stores in outlying areas. None of these, by any means, are the same as the original stand in LA, but they have the common high standards of quality, cleanliness, paper towels (napkins wouldn't possibly survive the chili), and the food.
Oh, God, the food.
Sometime in the 1990s, Tom passed on. But not a whole lot has changed, probably owing to the fact that it's a family business. Originally, they only sold potato chips starting in the 1960s as a side; they have since added french fries, also bringing in chili cheese fries as an obvious addition. Some time ago, they started selling tamales. Early in 2004, they began to sell burgers with thousand island dressing and lettuce - which are good, but it's not the same. All stores sell breakfast in the morning as well - a sausage and egg sandwich, I believe. The vast majority of the stores boast soda fountains (and, likewise, fresh brewed iced tea), some of them even offering free refills of the soft drinks; the one in LA still sells it by the can on the honors system - pay your money, grab it out of the fridge. All stores are Pepsi houses.
And they don't have tables at the LA store, either. You eat over at a counter that's erected by a back wall, on the same building as the restrooms and the secondary service window, or you eat in the car. Newer stores have tables placed outside, and even newer stores have indoor seating areas. In some cases, a former restaurant was taken over - I believe in the case of the Westminster, California store, it was a Weinerschnitzel at one time. The Weinerschnitzel has since moved up Goldenwest Street a bit. But I digress.
And slowly - ever so slowly - they are expanding. At the time of this writeup, they have 27 locations, and make it a point to add no more than one or two new installations per year - if that. They're very patient, and are attempting to not lose quality by expanding too quickly, like other companies managed
to do. Current plans according to their FAQ are to expand into San Diego and Riverside County - but only when they can find a good location to put a store.
(Caveat: there's one in Corona. Gotta go further east, guys.)
There are many fans of the burger that make it quite clear that the only "real" Tommy's is the one in Los Angeles, and I have to admit that they're half right. I grant that it certainly isn't the same as going to the one in Los Angeles, but if you need a cheeseburger that can't be beat, any of the stores will suffice, because thankfully it's the same dang thing. But, it's like Mecca. Sooner or later, you have to make the pilgrimage to the Los Angeles store to eat there.
More information is at their website, found at http://www.originaltommys.com.