Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis
When Tommy’s Hamburgers opened in 1946 on the corner of Beverly and Rampart boulevards in Los Angeles, it was a tiny 8x10-foot shack with stand-up counter service.
Sixty years later that location serves more than 10,000 customers a week, and has earned its corporate name Tommy’s Original World Famous Hamburgers. And little about the shack has changed other than the soft drinks are now in cans instead of glass bottles and the still-economical prices have increased a bit. The hamburgers that sold for 30 cents in 1950 now sell for $1.70.
“One of the most amazing things is that the original location has survived 60 years,” says Brent Maire, president of Koulax Enterprises, which owns and manages Tommy’s. “Not many locations of anything stay as is for 60 years. It’s of historical significance to the city of Los Angeles.”
The shack is of legal significance too, as the company has made it part of its trademarked logo—an element critical in defending the Tommy’s name in numerous legal battles over the years. “We are one of the most imitated concepts on this side of the U.S,” Maire says.
You might wonder what it is about Tommy’s that makes so many copycats want to share in its success. The short menu of signature chili cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fries, and famous tamales has hardly changed over the years, aside from the addition of a veggie sandwich for the health-conscious and milkshakes at newer locations. Maire says the simplicity of the menu has allowed Tommy’s to focus on quality and quantity—both keep customers coming back, Maire says—with what was once an innovative product.
“Back when Tommy (Koulax) opened, the chili-size sandwich was popular—an open-faced hamburger with chili all over it and topped with cheese and onions.” Maire says Koulax gave the recipe a twist by enclosing the ingredients within the bun, introducing perhaps the first chili cheeseburger. The Tommy’s chili, which comes standard on the burgers, sets it apart from other burger joints.