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At Tommy's, A Quiet 25th Anniversary

By Amy E. Schwartz

Tommy's Lunch hit the quarter-century mark yesterday, which means that Harvard procrastinators have been playing pinball and drinking coffee under its two neat white "No Loitering" signs since 1958. The signs were there when Thomas Stefanian bought the place, but almost everything else has changed.

"I've seen a lot of these buildings get built," the eponymous proprietor said yesterday morning as regulars straggled in and out, unaware of the occasion. "I saw Quincy House go up, I saw Leverett Towers go up. There's a lot more students around than there were in those days.

"Also, he added, "there weren't never any young ladies in here."

Since its opening, the Mt. Auburn St. luncheonette has expanded to twice its original size, and the clientele now includes not only young ladies but also Harvard Square regulars and elementary-school students from the nearby St. Paul's. The pinball machines have been there from the beginning--Tommy says he holds the longest continuous license for them in the Square--but the area devoted to video games has burgeoned.

As he always has, Tommy sticks to a few unchanging rules. The schoolkids can come in--"If they were my kids. I wouldn't want them standing in the cold"--but they aren't allowed on the machines till lunchtime. If customers put their feet on the stools, Tommy kicks them out.

"I try to run a clean ship," he said. "I run things my way; I respect my customers and they respect me. I've seen a lot of people come and go. I see students who say their fathers always came in here when they were in school."

Students, employees and other regulars yesterday had not heard about the anniversary, and few seemed to know what to make of the information.

"I'm really caught unawares. I wish him another 25," said Mel Dorfman, perhaps the most "regular" of Tommy's regulars. A familiar sight with his black beret, white beard, and stack of used books, Dorfman has eaten one or two meals in the luncheonette every day for the last three years; he said he has been dropping by "off and on" for the last 20.

Tommy's Lunch is "a kind of cross- roads for a lot of different people," he said Other eateries may be older, strictly speaking--The tasty opened its doors in 1956, for instance--but Tommy's is "the real institution" and the longest under the same management, Dorfman noted.

Tommy himself did nothing in particular to mark the occasion; he opened up shop at 6:30 a.m. in his seven-day-a-week routine, served breakfast, and left in the early afternoon. But one five-year employee caught a hint of emotion when he watched his boss pose for photographers.

"Tommy contained himself," he said letter, "but he looked pretty happy.

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