Longevity in La Jolla: Harry’s Coffee Shop a local institution


For over 48 years Harry’s has been serving hungry locals

Since around the time that John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States and gasoline sold for roughly 30 cents a gallon, Harry’s Coffee Shop has been serving hungry patrons its brand of hearty, no-frills American cuisine.

Located in the heart of La Jolla, Harry’s Coffee Shop has become a local institution. Opened in 1960 by Harry Rudolph, the restaurant is among the longest existing eateries in San Diego.

Prior to Rudolph buying it, the restaurant had been called Gene’s by the previous proprietor. It’s now owned by three of Harry’s nine children: John, Harry III and Liz Gotfredson.

The place doesn’t look like it’s changed much over the past 48 years. The retro decor, circa 1960, seems like a throwback to a bygone era.

A touch of sports

All of the sports memorabilia on the walls can be attributed to Harry’s love of athletics. He was a batboy for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player in the major leagues.

The restaurant draws its fair share of tourists, many of whom return every summer, pulled in by its authentic New York-style diner feel and classic smell of comfort food.

But according to John Rudolph, it’s the locals that have carved Harry’s into the woodwork of La Jolla’s landscape.

“We have customers that have been coming in since before the place became Harry’s,” he said. “Without them we really wouldn’t have a business.”

Those who have never been to Harry’s should not expect to have their eggs served on a bed of arugula or black truffle dipping sauce for their toast.

At a time when restaurants are searching for the latest and greatest taste sensations, Harry’s has stuck to a tried-and-true formula: old-fashioned food, generous portions and reasonable prices.

The owners of Harry’s aren’t taking anything for granted.

John Rudolph said that whether in your business or personal life, if you become too comfortable, you make yourself vulnerable.

He worries that losing just one customer could have a snowball effect. “In this business you have to prove and reprove yourself every day,” he said. “Otherwise, one day you could be out of business no matter how long you’ve been around.”

Like it or not

Harry’s Coffee Shop is truly a family run establishment. According to John, all of the Rudolph children - either willingly or unwillingly -worked at the restaurant when they were kids.

His grandmother was even on the payroll, having manned the register for 30-plus years. She lived upstairs from the restaurant and came down every morning at 5 a.m. to open up.

Now the next generation, with 19 nieces and nephews, is working at the restaurant.

John Rudolph said he hopes that one day one of them will carry the torch and run the family business.