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Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla Has Served Up 62 Years of Family-Friendly Favorites

Where kindness and humility are always the specials of the day
courtesy of Harry's Coffee Shop's Instagram

By Sabrina Medora

Harry's Coffee Shop - archival pic

Harry’s Coffee Shop, opened by the Rudolph family in 1960, has been serving patrons in La Jolla for over over 62 years

courtesy of Harry’s Coffee Shop’s Instagram

John Rudolph and I take seats opposite each other on the whitewashed benches that line a stretch of Girard Avenue in La Jolla. I squint through the relentless sunshine at the tables around us, each of which has cradled innumerable families—including my own—over 62 years.

Harry’s Coffee Shop has been a focal point of daily routine to countless La Jollans in its lifetime. To the Rudolphs, it’s the focal point of their entire lives. “I’ve never known life without Harry’s, and I’m not interested in knowing life without it,” explains John, son of founders Catherine Rudolph and Harry Rudolph Jr. 

“It’s incredible, this [is] one little business and we’ve all worked here,” John reminisces of his childhood. “To be fair, my dad should have fired me 100 times.”

Founded by his parents and grandparents, Harry’s became the spot for all nine Rudolph siblings to learn the value of a dollar. “If we wanted a skateboard or something, we could come here and work until we had the money. It taught us the value of hard work and that there’s no free lunch, so to speak.” But don’t let John kid you. Despite the shop being closed at the moment, a handful of people stop by the entrance to peer in. John immediately jumps up and offers them a seat and a beverage of choice on the house. The hospitality that his parents and grandparents strove to provide their guests runs through his veins.

John undertook ownership and operations of the restaurant back in 2005. Initially he shared the responsibilities with two of his siblings; while they’ve pared back their involvement to supporting roles, John remains the constant in nurturing the family tradition. “My parents sacrificed their lives for this business. It’s a part of our family. So I try to look at the business from their perspective. They dealt with the decades, through recessions, boom and bust economy, different restaurants opening and closing. I’ve been trying to navigate the ship that they started. And it’s not just me. It’s our staff. It’s my whole family. They’ve been a part of the success of the business.”

John has been channeling this inherited tenacity and unwavering support even during the pandemic. Despite breakfast not being an obvious moment for takeout, he made the decision to keep Harry’s open by offering takeout only. The once-buzzing coffee shop stripped down to one cook and one server. “Our logic was that we have to get the staff back to work because, ultimately, they’re our business,” he says. “There’s so many guests that don’t know who I am or never met our parents or any of my siblings. The staff represents the business.” 

Despite the challenges to stay afloat, Harry’s has remained open, bringing employees back as quickly as possible. Not even a car crashing into their entire electric panel and kitchen space could stop the Rudolph family, who worked together tirelessly to get the coffee shop back open within months of the accident. 

Throughout the ups and downs, Harry’s has stayed true to its nature. “We’re just an old-fashioned diner,” John says, shrugging. You won’t find gigantic soufflé pancakes or even an avocado toast on their menu. In fact, Harry’s menu has drastically reduced over the years (still standing at a respectable three pages long). But you’ll find an ever-ready line of people waiting to tuck into their BW Bennys and Belgian waffles. “One thing that our parents taught us was to treat people the same,” he continues. “Whether it’s the homeless person, the successful businessman or woman, or celebrity, [they get] the same level of respect and kindness. I would hope that’s our competitive advantage. Like our dad would always say: ‘You’re only as good as your last guest experience.’” 

When I ask about how John has celebrated the restaurant’s past milestones, he smiles serenely. “We don’t really celebrate anniversaries. I try to treat every day as if it’s our first day we’ve ever been in business. It’s like a grand opening with each guest that comes on property. There would be no business without the staff and none of us would be here without our guests. We’re all connected.”

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