Paul Pink greets the trio at the next table -- Ike Turner and friends chowing down on Pink's hot dogs with grilled onions and peppers.
"Looks almost good enough to eat," jokes Pink, nibbling somewhat resignedly at a chicken sandwich, light on the mayo. At 86, he's not allowed hot dogs.
Earlier, defying family orders, he'd had half a dog. This was, after all, a birthday bash.
Pink's is celebrating its 55th. Same location, La Brea and Melrose in Hollywood, where it all started with a pushcart. Same owner, who still comes in with regularity, "just to let the help know I'm around."
Same chili dogs with the works. Only the price has changed: Up from a dime to $2,10.
It hadn't taken long for the word to spread. To wish itself happy birthday, Pink's would be dishing up those dogs for 55 cents from 5 to 5:55 each afternoon for a week.
As Monday's first-nighters queued up at the pink rails, women in pink caps served up dog after dog. Pink watches approvingly, perched on the running board of a spiffy yellow '39 Buick parked in front. The Buick is from the Hollywood Picture Vehicles fleet of Scott Boses, a Pink's devotee for 36 years.
"I can't believe it," Pink says, "a million dollar business with a lousy hot dog."
The faithful pump Pink's hand, sharing Pink-isms.
"I've been coming here since I was 7," says Dennis Goode. Patting an expanse of grown-up waistline, he observes: "This is what I got this from."
Goode's father used to bring him and his seven siblings every Sunday after church. "It was a ritual. I still come once a week, whether I need it or not."
Actor Danny Mora headed for Pink's soon after arriving in Hollywood in 1968, a stage-struck 18-year-old. "There's only three or four things to recommend Hollywood. This is one of them."
There are hot dogs and Pink's dogs, explains L.A. firefighter John Lee, waiting in line. Not too salty, not too bland.
Pink's daughter, Beverly Wolfe, draped her scarf (pink) around her dad's neck and urged him to go inside and keep warm.
No, thank you. "I want to see this excitement," he says.
He is reminiscing. It's 1939. He and bride Betty have just set up shop. "Hot dogs (Hoffy, then as now) were 8 cents a pound." Buns were about 8 cents a dozen. "It was the easiest and cheapest business to go into."
He takes his hat off to Betty, who died this year. "A tough cookie," he says. She got them into hot dogs, later insisted that they buy the site on then-unpaved Melrose, and the adjacent lot, now a Pink-owned office building. They bought have a block for $500 down.
What the Pinks knew then about hot dogs would fit into a bun. She was a florist. He had an accounting degree and was a $15 a week bookkeeper.
"My wife borrowed $50 from her mother, bought the cart and wheeled it down from Fairfax." They hired one man, who opened up at 8 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. At night, he worked by candlelight. The Pinks couldn't afford electricity.
Paul was bookkeeper and ordering clerk; Betty was manager. At first, "If we sold 100 dogs a day, we were lucky." (Today, it's 1,500.)
Over the years, the cart evolved. In 1942, a small structure went up around it. In 1946, today's building replaced it.
Pink's was on its way to becoming an L.A. institution. "Orson Welles used to come here at least once a week," Pink recalls. "He'd eat anywhere from 12 to 15 hot dogs at one sitting." As unknowns, Martin and Lewis were regulars. Bruce Willis, it's said, proposed to Demi Moore over a Pink's dog.
The menu has also evolved. There's a turkey burger, a bacon burrito dog, a 12-inch jalapeno dog. Still, the chili dog's top dog.
But aren't the health police warning us that hot dogs are lethal? Nonsense, Pink says: "It's just something to write about."
Wolfe is insisting now that Pink go inside. Into the room with the photo gallery of Pink's who's who. Jay Leno, Liz Taylor...
Daughter-in-law Gloria Pink (in pink) stops by. She manages Pink's, which is still all in the family.
When the big guys, the chains, came courting, Pink said no. "I turned down $100,000 just to use my name. I've got more money than I can spend."
But his son, Richard, who's in real estate, talks about franchising Pink's worldwide. Someday. OK. Someday Pink may retire "and let the rest of them do the worrying."