The Fall and Rise of the House of Pies + Send Us Your Photos of Surviving House of Pies Buildings
If you've given a thought to the House of Pies, the longtime coffee shop and restaurant at the corner of Vermont and Franklin in Los Feliz, chances are its either been in contemplation of a piece of pie or noticing the unusual architecture. There was a short period when the distinctive, angular, cottage inspired buildings popped up not only around Los Angeles, but nationwide. Behind them was the same man who founded a restaurant chain that survives to this day.
The man behind the Original House of Pies was Al Lapin Jr., who created the International House of Pancakes and oversaw its parent company, International Industries Incorporated. By December 1968, newspaper ads touted the availability of citywide franchising, a concept giving a franchisee the rights to multiple House of Pies locations in a particular city. However, the timing could not have been worse for a new chain. Scared off by some recent franchising failures and scams, potential investors were skeptical. Stocks of franchise chain restaurants dropped dramatically on a January 1970 day, with International Industries falling sharply. A spokesman said the House of Pies was exceeding expectations, and they weren't concerned.
House of Pies were popping up all over the Los Angeles area, with five locations in the San Fernando Valley alone. Painted in the brightest refrigerator white, with pink trim, the unique buildings certainly stood out, right down to the circular sign out front featuring the name in script, "a unique coffee shop" and the logo, which featured a house with the symbol for pi in it. The HOP boasted a menu of more than 60 varieties of pies, a selection even Evan Kleiman would have been impressed with. Further complications arose with the arrival of a competitor, Marie Callender's. The two often had locations near each other, and as it turned out, there just wasn't a big enough slice of the American pie to go around.
In early 1971, eight franchisees filed a class action lawsuit against International Industries, claiming anti-trust violations involving price fixing and restricting their source of supplies. International denied this claim, but eventually reached a settlement that cost more than anticipated. There were 32 locations in the Southland by 1971, but the parent company lost $62 million dollars for the year.
The company had grown far beyond restaurants and, in trying to save it, Lapin brought in a corporate "doctor" who pared the non-food related chains, among them, business and health care training schools, motels and rental stores. Lapin stepped down as CEO and President in August of 1973, but remained as chairman. At the end of 1973 the company divested itself of the money, losing House of Pies and other restaurants, including other familiar area sights, Copper Penny Family Coffee Shops and Wil Wright's Ice Cream Parlors. Like weak meringue, the House of Pies had finally collapsed.
In a repeat of other chain failures, franchisees were left to fend for themselves. Several continued on as House of Pies, but by 1980, the Hollywood Boulevard location ceased operation, leaving the Los Feliz location as the sole survivor operating under that name in Los Angeles. The process was repeated around the country, and Houston, Texas, also has a House of Pies operating under that name.
This is where you come in, readers. At last check, six of the unique buildings were still operating as restaurants around Los Angeles County, from the Westside to the San Gabriel Valley to the South Bay. Your mission: To find them and send us your photos.
Jim Thurman They look like this. Go forth, find the others and send us your photos.