Tommy's Lunch: Dead at the Age of 34

Tommy's Lunch, of raspberry lime rickey fame, died this week in its home at 49 Mt. Auburn St. It was 34.

The luncheonette opened in 1958, one in a series of retail establishments that have occupied the building since 1926. The next occupant will be Tommy's House of Pizza, opening on January 2.

According to Tommy Stephanian, namesake of the deceased, the restaurant died of old age.

"I'm not a two-year-old anymore. I think I'm entitled," Stephanian said.

The specific cause of death could not be determined. Medical officials said an autopsy is impossible, given the constant presence of workers preparing the property for the new owners.

Some suspect that a rocky relationship between Stephanian and his landlord may have been an additional cause of the unexpected expiration.

"Why put up with the aggravation of the landlord? He has no love for me and I have no love for him," Stephanian said.

Tommy's served fries, raspberry lime rickeys and cheesesteak sandwiches to generations of Adams House residents, Crimson and Lampoon writers and Cantabrigians. During the week, it was the study break hangout of choice for many a scholar pulling an all-nighter. On weekends, it provided refreshment and jukebox selections to the drunken post-party, pre-hook up crowd.

Stephanian prided himself in running a clean, high-quality establishment. "If I wouldn't eat it myself, I wouldn't serve it," he said. "I think I ran a very clean store. I don't recall anybody getting food poisoning from my store," he added.

Stephanian's style could best be described as surly service with a scowl, yet his demeanor was a significant part of the Tommy's experience. Raffi S. Bezjian, who owns Leo's Place with his brother, Richard, worked at Tommy's when he first came to the States from Armenia.

Stephanian himself is Armenian, although the restaurant's ethnicity is a complicated mixture of Americana.

Bezjian recalls Stephanian's "big cigar and his holler and his scream."

"He was a tough man to work for, but he's a very nice man," said Bezjian.

"One of the things that makes Tommy's so special is that a longtime patron such as myself can be so rudely treated," Jeffrey A. Edelstein '84-85 told The Crimson in 1985.

But Tommy was also a father figure for many students. He told The Crimson in 1985 that he often advised undergraduate customers, "Don't waste your money on the pinball machines--study for your exams. I've seen plenty of guys flunk."