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No more free cuppa joe at the Original Pantry

After 87 years, the downtown L.A. eatery quietly raised the price of coffee to 50 cents per cup.

July 28, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Saul Sierra, 40, left of Hawthorne has been coming to the Original Pantry for 15 years. But Wednesday was his brother Louis' first visit to the downtown L.A. diner.
Saul Sierra, 40, left of Hawthorne has been coming to the Original Pantry… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

There wasn't a single gulp the morning that the price of a cup of coffee took a leap at one of Los Angeles' oldest restaurants.

Few, in fact, seemed to notice when the Original Pantry at 9th and Figueroa streets stopped giving coffee away free with breakfasts and started charging 50 cents per cup.

Free morning coffee had been a tradition at the 84-seat cafe since Dewey Logan opened it in 1924 with five employees, a grill and a hot plate.

The July 1 price increase was ordered by the Original Pantry's current owner, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, to offset increased food costs. By the start of summer, the price of the 10 1/2 tons of coffee used each year at the 24-hour eatery had jumped by more than 40% — outpacing even the escalating price of gasoline.

Of course, coffee price increases are not unheard of among L.A.'s classic restaurants. Philippe the Original, which opened in 1908, raised the price of a cup of joe in 1977 from a nickel to its current 9 cents.

"It helps two ways," Riordan said Wednesday. "We didn't have to charge more for breakfast, and we no longer automatically pour coffee for everyone in the morning."

Restaurant manager David Wall said he had worried that customers would rebel at having to pay for their coffee between 4 a.m. and 11 a.m. Coffee served at other times of the day costs $1.95 a cup.

"But the mayor had always said he thought people weren't even noticing the free coffee. I think he was right. I think 75% of the people didn't know they were getting their coffee free," Wall said.

So far, only three or four customers have commented on the change. And none of them complained, Wall said.

Those ordering breakfast Wednesday weren't stirred by the coffee price increase. "Fifty cents nowadays is just like a nickel used to be," said Montel Jennings, a San Francisco educational consultant paying his first visit to the Original Pantry.

"Am I outraged? No," said Alonzo Edmundo, a consultant from Columbus, Ohio, who eats at the restaurant whenever he is in town. "For almost 90 years this has been an awesome place. If they need an extra 50 cents to help keep the doors open, that's OK with me."

At the counter, Saul Sierra and his brother Louis, salesmen from Hawthorne, were polishing off steak-and-egg breakfast plates with steaming mugs of coffee.

"I never paid attention to the free coffee. The food is what brings me back," said Saul, who has patronized the restaurant for 15 years.

Even coffee at $1.95 is worth it, said Louis, making his first trip to the Original Pantry. "But it doesn't beat free."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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