At Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers, the key to success has been its ability to provide a product that customers cannot find anywhere else, President and General Manager Brent Maire says. One example is its trademark product, “a big, sloppy, meaty burger,” he says.
While consumers can buy burgers elsewhere, Original Tommy’s tops it with four ounces of its chili that gives it a unique flavor, Maire says.
“There are other restaurants that sell chili burgers and chili dogs, but no one can do it quite like Tommy’s does it,” he asserts.
Founder Tommy Koulax started Original Tommy’s in 1946 with a hamburger stand at the corner of Beverly and Rampart Boulevards in Los Angeles. At the time, Maire says, not many were selling hamburgers topped with chili.
However, Koulax found success with it, and also added all beef tamales and hot dogs. Over time, Koulax developed a customer base of high school and college students and local businesspeople.
They’ve got great stories of coming to Tommy’s in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. It’s an amazing heritage.
Eventually, Koulax grew his space to include two kitchens and success continued to follow. “People came from all over to eat at Tommy’s,” Maire says. “Through the years, it gained its reputation mainly because of Tommy’s unique flavor and his interest in making sure that we used fresh ingredients.”
For instance, Koulax used all-beef hamburger patties, hand-sliced beefsteak tomatoes, fresh chopped white onions, dill pickle chips and a special recipe all-beef chili that was made fresh daily. “That’s the concept we’ve continued through the years,” Maire says.
Today, Original Tommy’s has grown to operate 33 locations in California and Nevada. However, it has not made any major changes to its menu.
“We only serve hamburgers, hot dogs, tamales, fries and drinks, and that’s it,” Maire asserts.
Maire joined Original Tommy’s in 1982 after working for McDonald’s and managing several of its stores. He notes that he had long enjoyed Original Tommy’s food before joining the company.
“My brother took me to Tommy’s,” he says, noting that many customers have shared similar experiences with him, as well. “We have served thousands of people who have told us that their families have grown up around Tommy’s.
“They’ve got great stories of coming to Tommy’s in the ‘60s, ‘70s, [and] ‘80s,” he says. “It’s an amazing heritage.”
Maire adds that he was able to work with Koulax before he died in 1992 and now is grateful to work with members of Koulax’s family. “Many of our family members are on the board of directors,” he says, naming President Dawna Bernal, CFO Richard Hicks, and Koulax’s daughters, Cynthia Koulax and Diane Craig. Professional executives include Vice President of Operations Robert Castaneda and Director of Operations Rudy Alvarado.
“Tommy’s concept is a Los Angeles icon,” Maire states, “but working to maintain value is a day-to-day process.”
Keeping It Simple
With the impacts of the recession, Original Tommy’s has found itself competing more with larger hamburger chains. “We’re not a big chain,” Maire admits. “But we’re probably one of the most competitive in fast food.”
Although some of the other chains may be stronger in terms of their marketing campaigns, Original Tommy’s copes by continuing “to do what we do best,” he says. “We keep it simple in the things that we do, which is to maintain the quality of our product and the cleanliness of our stores.”
While Original Tommy’s wants to expand its customer base, it also wants to continue satisfying the fans it has already earned. “We have 65 years of loyal patrons who have visited Original Tommy’s at Beverly and Rampart,” he says. “This rich heritage relies upon us to continue to provide great service, great food and value.”