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End of an era: Philippe's raising price on 9-cent cup of coffee

January 25, 2012 |  4:44 pm

Blanca Santana at Philippe's
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 one extra cent of tax.

Since 1977, the legion of longtime customers at the Alameda Street restaurant 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 sign on the door that came as a surprise: Starting Feb. 2, the price of an eight-ounce brew is going up 400% — to 45 cents.

They say the price of coffee is such that the restaurant no longer can keep the 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 become included in the price of a breakfast and, even after the hike, two quarters for a coffee is still a bargain.

Patrons didn’t balk at the new price. Many said they were surprised it has stayed low for so long. It’s just that not much at Philippe’s 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 together for 40 years -- take a bus and the Blue Line to come to Philippe’s from Seal Beach for a date or their anniversary. “It’s kind of 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 changed around them, found one place safe from time and inflation.

It’s a proudly old-fashioned place (established in 1908). It doesn't take credit cards, sawdust covers the floor and the lines move like clockwork. A group of elderly women wandered over to a booth of police officers just to say hello.

Ray Calderon, 73, an L.A. native who since moved away, remembered back when Philippe’s raised prices the last time, up from a nickel to a dime.

Jeremy Witt, 33, of Torrance grew up coming to Philippes. By the early afternoon Wednesday, he was already on his third cup of black coffee. “This will keep me going the rest of the day,” he said.

Wednesday was the first time 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 coffee cost a dime.

“I thought that was just an old poster!” said Stone, 68, talking about an old sign behind the counter. “I didn’t expect it to be nine cents!”

To be certain, she pulled out her receipt to check. Sure enough, it listed three coffees, grand total: 27 cents.

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-- Rick Rojas

Photo: Blanca Santana, who has worked at Philippe's for nine years, brews coffee for the lunch crowd.

Credit: Christina House / For The Times

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