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William 'Bill' Binder dies at 94; ran Philippe's eatery

He joined his father-in-law in running the L.A. institution famous for its French dip sandwiches, eventually taking over from him.

February 09, 2010|By Keith Thursby
  • Bill Binder, left, with sons Richard, center, and John inside Philippe's restaurant circa 1982. The sons updated the menu after their father retired but have kept the eatery's hallmarks intact.
Bill Binder, left, with sons Richard, center, and John inside Philippe's… (Los Angeles Times )

William "Bill" Binder, who for years ran Philippe's, the Los Angeles eating institution famous for its sawdust-covered floors and trademark French dip sandwiches, has died. He was 94.

Binder, who retired in 1985, died Jan. 28 of natural causes at a care facility in Pasadena, said his son John, who runs Philippe's with his brother, Richard.

"He had a real mild temperament; he always tried to treat everybody with respect," John Binder said. "He had a very, very deep religious belief. He felt we were just so blessed to have the business."

Philippe’s -- or as it's officially known, Philippe the Original -- has been a fixture on Alameda Street near Olvera Street and Union Station since 1951 and has been in Los Angeles for more than 100 years.

The French dip sandwich has always been the restaurant's star attraction -- roast beef, turkey, ham, roast pork or lamb on a French roll, with the bread dipped in the roasts' gravy. And alongside the salads, desserts and drinks on the menu, there are some surprising touches, such as hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice and pigs feet.

"We were just so fortunate to keep drawing people back," John Binder said, noting the many changes the neighborhood has gone through over the years. "People never forgot about this place."

William Otto Binder was born Feb. 28, 1915, in Milwaukee. His family moved from Chicago to California, and he graduated from Calexico High in 1933. Binder, whose father had been the brew master for Miller Brewing Co., graduated from Wahl-Henius Brewing Institute in Chicago.

He enlisted in the Marines in 1941 and was a captain when discharged in 1945. He remained in the reserves until 1951, reaching the rank of major.

Binder married Beverly Martin in 1944. Her father, Frank, had purchased Philippe's with his two brothers in 1927 from original owner Philippe Mathieu.

Fittingly, the couple met at Frank's Place, a cafe operated by Frank Martin that was across the street from the Eastside Brewery, where Binder worked.

They briefly moved after the war to Hancock, Mich., where Binder took a job as a brew master. They returned to Los Angeles a few months later, and Binder ran his own coffee shop for a few years before joining Martin at Philippe's after Martin's brothers died.

Family members said Binder persuaded Martin, who died in 1969, that Philippe's could still be successful in a new home when construction of the Hollywood Freeway forced the restaurant to leave its location on Aliso Street. Philippe's opened in its current location in 1951.

Philippe's had a new home, but Binder didn't mess with its winning formula; the menu stayed virtually the same during his years running the restaurant. Additions such as the turkey sandwich and salads to provide health-conscious diners with options were added after he retired in 1985.

After retiring, he returned regularly for breakfast, his sons said.

Both brothers remember Binder fixing things around the restaurant, a model of hard work. "Nobody had to rock you to sleep" after a day's work, John said.

"I was so fortunate to have the time I had with him. He knew what it takes to keep the place going."

Binder's other survivors include daughter Kathleen Binder Halstead, 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His wife died in 2001.

There will be a memorial Mass Saturday at St. Therese Catholic Church in Alhambra.

keith.thursby@latimes.com

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