Philippe The Original is one of the oldest and most well-respected family-owned restaurant businesses in Greater Los Angeles. It was established in 1908 by founder, “Philippe” Mathieu, who self-claims the honor of having (accidentally) created the famous “original” French Dipped sandwich over a century ago.
So, what’s a “French Dipped Sandwich” – and how on Earth did its creation happen “by accident?”
The narrative goes that Mathieu accidentally dropped his sliced French roll into a roasting pan filled with hot juices from the oven, one day in 1918 while making a traditional sandwich. The customer decided he would take the sandwich anyway since he was in a hurry, expecting to be disappointed by its abnormal flavor. He returned the next day with his friends asking for more of these tasty “dipped” sandwiches.
Why is it called a “French” Dipped Sandwich?
This name is speculated to have come from Mathieu’s French heritage, or from the French roll the sandwich is made on – and although the Philippes team is not 100% sure of the origins of its name, the discovery of the “French Dip” phenomenon changed the course of culinary history.
Current owners and cousins Harry, Dave and Frank Martin eventually purchased Philippe’s in 1927 for just $5,000. Its management team has stood the test of time, owning and operating the restaurant 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Great Depression and World War II – and now, through the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Metrolink connected with fourth generation owner and general manager, Andew Binder, on his thoughts about what makes the restaurant so quintessential? unique within LA history and how it is deeply intertwined with the SoCal railway’s heritage.
Keeping it in the Family
“We’re such an old restaurant, we do things so uniquely – everything from our layout to our menu to how we’ve done things is all us,” says Binder, on the restaurant’s remarkable history.
“We really weathered the storm, got through the depression, world wars, and we kept it in the family,” says Binder. “My dad is still working, he worked with his father, and it’s a special place to have worked alongside my family. We plan to keep it in the family.”
If Philippes were to be described in one word, there’s a strong chance it would be “family.”
“That’s the culture of the restaurant,” says Binder. “From our customers, to my dad and my cousin, to my taking on this ownership role…Some of the girls who were still working there when I started were my babysitters back in the day. It was kind of a role reversal – now, the new manager is the old baby!”
The Unbreakable Community Restaurant Spot
Due to COVID-19 established LA Stay-at-Home Order, Philippe’s was forced to shut down for the longest period in its 100-year history from 3/15/2020 – 4/1/2020. Binder says the community’s support of the restaurant didn’t waver during those especially challenging times, which restored his faith in the community.
“We still had our online orders for gift cards, and the support that was coming in was huge,” he says. “So many people have a generational tradition of visiting us – whether it’s before a Dodger’s game, or for a certain special occasion, when we reopened, we were slammed. It was so nice to see everyone again.”
Everyone is Welcome Here
The restaurant continues to rely on its social media communication to keep customers updated – something that was unheard of when it was facing historically hard times such as the Great Depression and WWII. Binder says even the restaurant’s veteran second and third generation customers are accustomed to checking social media for updates to the business hours and offerings.
“We’re adapting to online orders, and we certainly try to help [our customers] as much as possible,” he says. “Everyone’s support has been great, and we try to give back as much to the community as we can. We try to make the community happy about what they have given to us.”
Binder shared a particularly impactful experience he had at Philippe’s during the pandemic showcasing the customer’s loyalty to their business, and each other’s company. “We have so many regulars…we have one group that we just call ‘table one,’ which is usually a crew of anywhere from six-10 guys who come in right at 5:50 a.m. before we open at 6 a.m., and they hang out together drinking coffee outside for two hours. They know each other from way back, and throughout the closures and changes, they’ve kept in touch with us and supported us as best they can.”
He reflects on the changing demographics of the customers Philippe’s will serve on any given day. “Our ‘regulars’ change from morning to afternoon to evening,” he says. “When we’re open for dine-in, we’ll serve every kind of customer – from lawyers and attorneys on their lunch break, to construction workers who have been working overnight and they’re having their dinner with us at 6 a.m.”
The restaurant team has made a conscious effort to keep its prices as low as possible since they originally opened.
“Something my grandfather wanted was for people to be able to afford a good cup of coffee, regardless of their financial situation,” says Binder.
Right now, visitors can get a decent cup of coffee at Philippe’s for just 50 cents.
A “Friendly” Rivalry
Angelenos are aware of the rivalry between Philippe’s and Cole’s French Dip, both of whom claim the title of creating the “original French Dip sandwich.” Binder laughs and shares his take on their competitive history.
“We were founded in 1908, the same year as Cole’s – but we let the customers decide on their own who they think the original was,” says Binder. “Also, we’re similar, but very different [restaurants]. They have much more of a nightlife scene with a full bar and we’re more of a family style deli restaurant. It’s a friendly rivalry. I always make sure to say that!”
“On Track” for a Bright Future with Metrolink
Binder recognizes the importance of the relationship between Metrolink, LA’s workforce, and the restaurant’s most loyal fans.
“Public transportation is essential for a growing population. One of the best things about our location is being close to L.A.’s Union Station. Having travelers come in and out, and our longevity becoming a destination restaurant – everything about our partnership with Metrolink makes sense. We’ve always had a great relationship.”
When SoCal Explorers take the train to Philippe’s and show their loyalty card, they will receive 10% Off Their Food Purchase