The original location was opened on May 15, 1946, by Tom Koulax (October 26, 1918 - May 28, 1992), the son of Greek immigrants, on the northeast corner of Beverly and Rampart Boulevards west of downtown Los Angeles. The stand, which still stands today, sold hamburgers and hot dogs topped with chili. At first business was slow, but started to pick up. During the 1960s, the entire lot at this intersection was purchased. Soon after, the northwest corner was acquired for expanded parking and storage of goods. Not long after that, a second service counter occupying the building at the perimeter of the northeast lot was set up. The food was essentially the same from both counters, yet the original shack counter often had longer lines, perhaps for nostalgic reasons.
In the 1970s, Tommy's initiated a conservative expansion plan, growing from the original location to 30 locations in 2006. Tommy's does not expand to more than a handful of locations per year. Most Original Tommy's restaurants are found in the Greater Los Angeles Area. There are also Original Tommy's restaurants in San Diego, Barstow, Palmdale, La Habra, Riverside, Henderson, and most recently, in Lake Forest.
The company is based in Glendale, California, and is run by the late Mr. Koulax' family. The restaurants are all company-owned, and there are no plans for the company to offer any franchised locations.
A ladle or two of Koulax' signature chili tops nearly every available menu item, even the breakfast sandwich. Original Tommy's chili is a mixture of an all-beef chili con carne base, flour, water, and a "secret" blend of spices, and resembles a condiment more than a conventional bowl of chili. The flour-water mixture allows the chili to "set up" and stick better to the burger or fries. The chili is arguably the source of Original Tommy's success and staying power, and the trade secret that imitators are unable to duplicate to the satisfaction of Tommy's enthusiasts.
Many Original Tommy's restaurants, including the inaugural Beverly and Rampart location, are open 24 hours. It is common to see a line of patrons around the block at all hours. A night-time trip to Tommy's is often referred to as a "Tommy's run" - the catchphrase "Make a Tommy's Run" appears on some of the restaurant's T-shirts. The clientele encompass the full spectrum of Angelenos - it is common to see well-dressed businessmen eating alongside folks in bathrobes.
All locations serve Pepsi Cola branded beverages; iced tea is fresh brewed, except at the Beverly Blvd. location, which does not have the facilities, and serves cans of Lipton Brisk iced tea. HamburgerCheeseburgerDouble HamburgerDouble CheeseburgerTriple HamburgerTriple CheeseburgerHot dogsTamales
Most locations also offer prepackaged chips and snack items at the counter.
Except for a brief flirtation with radio advertising in the 1990s, Original Tommy's has relied on word-of-mouth advertising to gain popularity.
The popularity of Original Tommy's restaurant has prompted a string of similarly named restaurants, such as the unaffiliated Tommie's Hamburgers found in several Los Angeles area shopping malls. The slogan If you don't see the shack, take it back, referring to the original Beverly and Rampart "shack" location depicted on the company logo, is intended to distinguish Tom Koulax' restaurants from imitators. This is somewhat analogous to the surplus of "Ray's Pizza" restaurants in New York City.