Eagle Rock coffee house owner fears food trucks & pot shops will drive merchants away

Photo by IK's World Trip/Flickr

It’s been more than a decade since Patricia Neale Vuagniaux opened up Swork at the corner of Eagle Rock and Colorado Boulevards. The neighborhood coffee house was part of a new generation of independent cafes and stores to reinvigorate  Eagle Rock’s main shopping strip.  But some  recent developments have Vuagniaux worried about the outlook for Eagle Rock merchants.  She expressed those concerns in  a first-person opinion piece in Eagle Rock Patch. The most recent sign of trouble was the arrival of food trucks, including one that recently parked itself in front of Swork, which saw a drop in business and increase in litter as a result.  The trucks and a proliferation of nail salons,  pot shops and massage parlors has left Vuagniaux wondering if her dream of transforming Eagle Rock’s section of Colorado Boulevard into a “Pasadena-ish haven” is fading quickly:

“Is this what it’s coming down to? Cities invaded by food trucks? Date night on sidewalks? This trend will grow, expand, and in its wake leave nothing but broken business behind. Is this what Eagle Rock wants? More empty retail spaces, with “For Lease” and “For Rent” signs dotting the boulevard?
I love living in Eagle Rock. I have worked really hard to bring an uber coffee bar to Eagle Rock. But I’m exhausted.

Initially, my dream was to help shape Colorado Boulevard into a Pasadena-ish haven and really help revitalize the community. But we allow massage parlors, marijuana dispensaries, excessive nail salons—and now food trucks. I’m beginning to feel like all of my efforts are for nothing.

Vuagniaux added that nearby Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank would never allow what “we do” in Los Angeles.


  1. I agree completely with her on all her points. And definitely enough food trucks already. This trend has gotten ridiculous. And really, the food and the prices at these new ‘gourmet’ trucks is laughable. Its just way over priced and bland (Lobsta Truck is a perfect example). I have nothing against the scattered taco trucks, they never invade brick and mortar spaces and have good food at good prices, (La Estrella’s Al Pastor is mind blowing).

  2. I like Swork Cafe a lot, and I also like food trucks. I don’t think it’s necessarily right to have food trucks park right in front of another food related business like that. If the food trucks are creating litter and losing business for local business, that is a big problem. It’s not like the cafe can just move in front of a food truck and take away its business.

    I’d hate to see Swork Cafe lose any business, because it’s a great addition to Eagle Rock.

  3. i don’t believe that food trucks or nail salons are a bad thing for the neighborhood. food trucks add more choices for the residents, and they can choose if they want to take the chance at restaurant prices for possibly mediocre food from a truck. some trucks are great and some are awful. massage & pot shops, well time will tell. i don’t wish them in the area but what can you do? i don’t go to swork anymore because i found a better coffee shop – better flavor with cheaper prices – nearby; and that has nothing to do with a food truck.

  4. So you judge your business more worthy. The owners of these other businesses don’t have the same entreprenurial rights and desires that you have? With the exception of the “happy ending” massage parlors, these are all legit businesses operating legally trying to make a dollar, just like you. The food trucks are in Burbank, Pasadena, and Glendale, there are massage parlors and medical marinjuana dispensaries in those places. The difference is that those places also have other successful businesses that are frequented enough to allow the owners to pay their rent and keep their business running. So Swork is struggling, find a way to attract new clientele or another way to compete in the area. Blaming the competitors because you happen to not like their products because they do better business then you is just whining.

  5. I don’t personally chase the food trucks, but I’m sure newspapers felt the same way about the internet. It’s a readily accessible, movable form of dining. It’s new, it’s hip, and perhaps it will run its course like most fads. But in the interim, seeing that Swork is a coffee/dessert place (based on its website) and not losing business as a restaurant (dinner) per se, in my opinion the only way to go is to cross-promote with the food trucks. Dine at ____ truck, and get $__ off at Swork. If you can’t beat them, join them.

    As far as trash though, that’s bad business. If the food trucks don’t bring (or aren’t required to) their own waste receptacles and there aren’t any already outside Swork, perhaps that should be a requirement for the food trucks. Perhaps complain with the health department which supposedly oversees the food truck ratings and operations.

  6. I lived near this intersection when Swork opened up. It’s a nice place.

    However, I think she’s blaming the wrong people. First of all, I still frequent this area and all I can think about in regards to Swork is the unpainted, unwelcoming sheet of plywood where a window used to be. It looks out of business if you’re on Eagle Rock Blvd. Second, the Starbucks a block away from Swork probably isn’t helping matters much. Lastly, the eyesore that is the vacant ex-Blockbuster is more damaging than any pot shop or massage parlor.

    Pot shops are a good thing. Those are customers with money. Also, there are plenty of independent, high-rated eateries on Colorado Blvd in that area that keep the feeling that Vuagniaux is searching for.

    Business owners need to stop blaming food trucks for their woes. People really enjoy them. So, until food truck customers stop enjoying them, stationary businesses need to learn to coexist.

  7. Okay great. If you don’t like food trucks, don’t patronize them. Let the market decide. The fact that Pasadena and Glendale “don’t allow” food trucks and pot shops only means those cities use force and coercion to implement some agenda rather than allowing people to decide what products and services they want. Pasadena used to be more like Eagle Rock – low key, original, home to creative individuals and unique stores. Now it’s just one big corporate mall. Trying to emulate Pasadena is pointless. Try to make Eagle Rock as unique as it wants to be is better. Right now is a growing pain. If people decide the food trucks are overprices and mediocre, they’ll stop patronizing them and the food trucks will disappear – problem solved. Meanwhile, please think of other ways beside force to get people to patronize Eagle Rock – like offering unique products and services for the Starbucks/Cheesecake Factory/GAP weary and hanging in there.

  8. I hate being a hater but the one time I went to the Swork I found it overrated. The staff was rude and evasive. Prices too high and nothing cozy about it. Just because someone has a vision does not mean everyone has the same. Sorry

  9. Hmm… maybe there’s so much litter because people in LA are disrespectful slobs. I grew up there and it’s tragic the litter situation.

  10. This is ridiculous. If you are losing business, then you need to adapt and provide a service or product that people want. Are you really asking for the government to intervene and create laws that force people to come to your place of business? The litter problem is completely unacceptable and should be dealt with separately, but if these comments are correct about the mediocre food that is provided by the trucks, then you should have no problem competing against them. I completely agree with Cristi’s comment about misplacing blame. Many businesses, such as newspapers and magazines, had to adapt or go out of business. I know I would never choose a food truck over a coffee house if I liked the atmosphere and quality food. I wish Swork cafe the best of luck; however, take this drop in business as a sign that something needs to change. If you do, I’m sure the people will choose you over bland food from a truck on the street.

  11. Food trucks should NOT be parking in front of “brick and mortar” restaurants during normal business hours. The operators of the trucks are responsible for cleaning up after their patrons.
    I do love the food trucks but I want my local eateries to flourish as well. Let us remember, customers will patronize the businesses that provide the best service and tasty food for a reasonable price.

  12. I 100% agree w/her and also feel frustrated. Why can’t eagle rock get its crap together and have that quaint blvd that is walkable like pasadena? she is right – other closer cities just don’t allow it. The food trucks are invasive and do drive business away from retail establishments. I drove by swork the other day and wanted to pop in but saw a food truck and kept driving. too much hassle to park and get around the hipsters and their crappy food truck food! i’m rooting for you swork! don’t give up.

  13. If your coffee shop has great coffee and food, food truck isn’t going to affect your business. Consumers aren’t stupid. They will go for good food and beverages. Instead of whine about it and blame others, why not take a good look within your shop and figure out a way to take back the customers? I have look up your website and it says “Best of LA 2006.” That was 5 years ago which is long time ago for restaurant industry. For a restaurant business, if you cannot keep up with your reputation, it is no one else but your own fault. I hope the best for you. Good luck.

  14. Whatever. She can move her business out of LA, if she’s that dissatisfied. That location would make a great pot shop, ha ha. She might face stiffer competition in a place like Pasadena where the overpriced espresso market niche is a tad more saturated than eagle rock.

  15. I hope the food trucks run their course and fade away sometime soon. Parking your food truck right in front of an established restaurant (which pays property taxes, must provide for parking, restrooms, etc.) is not a good way to assimilate within a neighborhood.

  16. This is so retarded!!!! Thats like saying tjere are too many gas stations or markets. HAVE BETTER DEALS and people will keep coming.

  17. if your business is failing because of the competition then maybe you don’t have a viable product or service to begin with. The “coffee shop” trend ended in the 90’s. Maybe Patricia should pack up her espresso machine into a truck and have a mobile massage, manicure, reefer, coffee truck 🙂

  18. I lived in eagle rock for 4 yrs and the town seemed to get worse every year. Sworks was cool until the manager who kept it cool left. Then all that worked there were potheads who
    didn’t care about the customers. Now when I drive through eagle rock, it looks like a dying town. In order for Sworks to survive, they need to go back to their old ways or move to another small city like South Padsdena.

  19. After years of working in factories and eating from catering trucks, I swore I’d never eat truck food again. Now the pampered scenesters seem to have adopted even more-overpriced catering trucks as the latest venue for unearned working-class “authenticity.” A solution would be to park them in a vacant lot where the hip hungry can gather in celebration of their unique ability to sniff out that which is unique (like food served off a truck! Brilliant!) and keep the businesses that cater to busy, working people open and thriving. Be sure to pick up after yourselves, people. Oh, and check that expiration date…

  20. the point about food trucks not taking business if you served better food is valid. i’ve had to work at swork for hours before, and all they serve are bread-related carb-heavy sweets, which is fine for a snack, but doesn’t make a meal. the main issue i see with them is no real focus on a target audience. are you going after people with kids or freelancers who want to co-work for long stretches? why not start brainstorming on how to engage those people more, host meet-ups, join some small business groups and see how you can create interesting extensions of the services you already offer?

    the bigger point, though, is that the owner is disappointed that her bet on rapid gentrification didn’t pay off. anyone whose spent a lifetime in LA has known that eagle rock has never been on a rapid rise or decline, and doesn’t have the history that pasadena did as a city center. you gotta be in it for the long haul in eagle rock, partner with your long-standing businesses to the east and get locals excited about frequenting your businesses. stop pointing fingers at perceived riff-raff and start revitalizing your own offerings from the inside out.

  21. I was here when Swork opened and was happy to see a coffee shop, at the time we had just lost a little coffee shop across from 7-11 that had the atmosphere of your grandma’s house. The people of Eagle Rock rolled over when Starbucks took up shop across the street but people with soul usually will stay out. I dig food trucks, and check the Fireman’s Credit Union occasionally to see who is up there, haven’t seen any on that side of Colorado but should be simple to get parking enforcement out to ticket them if they are, or talk to the owners about the trash. I hope that Swork stays healthy long before Pasadena became a mega mall, their was a great coffee shop with a library games and spoken word that was forced out to make way for Starbucks, Apples Store, CheeseCake Factory etc…

    If you build it they will come

  22. Pot stores, nail salons and massage parlors (yes there are legit ones) that follow the laws, I don’t have a problem with. But yes a competing business that rolls in front of a brick and mortar building, obstructing the view and available parking is completely effed up.

  23. Food trucks are unfair competition to small restaurants. They are not required to deal with any of the licensing hurdles that restaurants are. I, for one, like to eat in actual restaurants in my neighborhood. Food trucks are fine at events, etc, but parked in front of brick and mortar eateries, they DO take away business while adding little value to the overall community they serve except for cheap eats.
    Seems to be the norm though that we want cheaper and cheaper without realizing the greater cost to our livelihoods and communities.

  24. Not Brainwashed...

    Sounds like a pity party over at Sworks! Woohoo!
    I would not go to any of those businesses mentioned for anything that I would expect to get at Sworks. But if I were high, I’d want a tasty coffeehouse treat! A friend once told me, when you point a finger at others, there are three fingers pointing back at you…or something like that.
    I say: **Dinner at a food truck? DESSERT & COFFEE at Swork!**
    **Just got a massage? SOMETHING REFRESHING from Swork!**
    **Stoned? Satisfy your MUNCHIES & quench your COTTON-MOUTH at Sworks!**
    **Going in for some pampering at the nail salon? Pick up something to sip on at Sworks!**
    Sounds to me that Patricia Neale Vuagniaux can’t see an opportunity when it’s right in front of her!!!
    Sorry Patricia Neale Vuagniaux, but the problem might just be Swork.

  25. I live near Eagle Rock and I don’t feel like the neighborhood or Colorado Blvd have been going downhill. Perhaps Swork is struggling at the moment, and other restaurants have not survived, but there seem to be many thriving in their place. Over the past few years we’ve seen Auntie Em’s, Oinkster, Coffee Table, Brownstone Pizza and several other restaurants open up, and The Bucket just did a nice remodel. Plus, Cafe Beaujolais and Fatty’s are still great. Retail has struggled, but there are still several clothing botiques, kids stores and even a used book store right in Swork’s area. The key is to continue to encourage folks in the area to shop locally, and eventually when the economy turns around that strip of Colorado will attract even more businesses. Eagle Rock isn’t as rich and flashy as Old Town Pasadena, but, frankly, I’m happy about that.

  26. Food trucks are licensed, inspected by the health department (just like a restaurant) pay business license fees to the cities in which they work… (even more than a restaurant with one location) and have clients that follow them from city to city bringing more business locally. I think it is a good solution in this economy since a brick and mortar restaurant can not move its location if business is bad. Ultimately, you still have to make the customers happy if you are going to keep them. Taking care of business is good business.

  27. Dick Vanderhilt

    Do we really need a ‘Pasadena-like haven’ four miles from Pasadena? It’s pretty classless to get on a public forum and blame others for your inability to thrive in a difficult economy.

    Dear Ms. Vuagniaux,
    Though I have been walking past your door for eight years without ever entering the door, I will make a point to take the parking spot nearest to your store as possible to prevent an evil food truck from offering your patrons a meal.

    D. Vanderhilt

  28. People actually give a shit about Eagle Rock? I had no idea.

  29. And the winner of today’s “Snobbiest, Most Annoying Comment Award” is (tap a drum roll on your desk, everyone): J Tiki! “The people of Eagle Rock rolled over when Starbucks took up shop across the street but people with soul usually will stay out.”

  30. This lady’s tone and her call to make Eagle Rock “Pasadena-ish” is a total turn off.
    I think people in Eagle Rock (at least my friends that live there) prefer a more funky vibe, but…

    The opinion piece she wrote that Jesus provided the link to from the Eagle Rock Patch (above) is an interesting read. The owner of the shaved ice truck that she is complaining about responded in the comments. I found what he had to say shed a new light on this story. He posted with the name ThoM. If anyone is interested in reading his responses you can just click on the link Jesus provided in the story.

    As far as regulations for food trucks there are some that are relevant to this story and answer some questions posed in these comments. They are listed on The Mobile Food Truck Association’s website’s FAQ.

    For example:

    • You must have a CONSPICUOUS litter receptacle which is clearly marked with a sign requesting its use by patrons [ LAMC 80.73(b)2(D)]. In-truck hatch receptacles are NOT sufficient.

    • Trash shall be removed from all areas VISIBLE around the truck. The truck shall take all bags with them when vacating an area. Trash is to include all materials originally dispensed from the truck as well as any other items left by patrons, such as cigarette butts[ LAMC 80.73(b)2(E)].

    ThoM, the shaved ice guy, swears that he left no mess and is very thorough about clean up, by the way.

    Also – any food truck parking for more than an hour must have a signed “bathroom letter” from a business within 200 ft. of where it is parked. If the Swork lady is so up-in-arms about this whole thing maybe she should find out which one of her brick and mortar neighbors is responsible for that.

    I like food trucks but I do get the parking problems they can present for the brick and mortar businesses. That part can be a bummer. And if they don’t clean up after themselves it is inexcusable and very uncool. I’m not convinced that happened though.

    ThoM said he cross-promotes with businesses he parks near and twitters about them, etc. (Sort of like what some suggested in the comments above). He says does that with other businesses in Eagle Rock and it works out great for everyone. He said in the comments on The Patch that he left his business card a week beforehand for the Spork owner and she didn’t get back to him. She apparently also never reached out to him before writing this piece.

    So… pretty lame on her part.

    And I don’t really see how a shaved ice truck is really competition for a coffee shop. If anything I could see moms stopping there and getting shaved ice for the kids and patronizing her business for a coffee for the mom. She may be missing a great opportunity…

  31. Whoa! Didn’t realize my comment was so long. Sorry… got on a roll!

  32. swork is amazing. mint chip ice blended. yum yum yum !

  33. 1st rule of business is to know your market – not “know who you want your market to be and wish really hard for the location where you opened your business to change.”

    Eagle Rock is an eclectic place. There are tons of restaurants (many of which are always packed) and new businesses popping up all the time, which means it is certainly a viable neighborhood for businesses.

    Ms. Vuagniaux also seems to be ignoring the fact that a down economy means a lot of people have re-prioritized their spending, and ditched the habit of daily $5 coffee drinks. By whining in the media rather than focusing on adapting and seeking opportunity for her business, I doubt she has helped her cause.

  34. I am not a fan of food trucks, but I don’t see how businesses suffer from the food truck being there. Unless your a restaurant very close by, maybe, but a non restaurant business should not see a decline. I have never been to Sworks, and I assume that coffee is their forte. A food truck usually doesn’t sell gourmet coffee. I think Sworks business had already been on the decline. What I absolutely agree on is the trash that people leave behind, and that can be extremely frustrating, or people stopping on the street making a quick run for the food truck while blocking driveways.

  35. Imagine a food truck parked in front of your house, on your street. The litter, the lack of parking for visitors, the visual eyesore, etc. Get the picture??? Food trucks are great — on construction sites, serving people with limited time. But… not during business hours and in front of businesses paying rent and taxes. Just another example of peoples concern for themselves, and not for supporting a local independent business.

  36. Fix Coffee in EP hosted The Buttermilk Truck on thier parking lot a few months ago. It seem to work out for them. I ordered Red Velvet pancakes, breakfast sliders & the breadfast sandwich. I then went inside Fix and ordered a coffee. Pretty much everyone else did the same. The Swork owner should do the same. Invite a truck that will benefit her business, and this will give her business more exposure.

  37. The Swork owner certainly has a way with words. Her comments should be left as hers and not representative of the community. 10 years ago she was interviewed in the LA Times Magazine and basically announced that she opened her business in Eagle Rock to save residents from our own culturally savage tendencies, insinuating we don’t know good from bad. Eagle Rock has long been a mosaic of diverse peoples and backgrounds.

    Now she is wants to make ER more Pasadena-ish. Perhaps we live in ER for its own quirky traits. If she is suggesting an Old Towne Pasadena feel she is crazy. Old Towne does not necessarily serve Pasadena residents and the last thing we need is national chains stressing local businesses that have operated for years.. With a Starbuks 200 yards from her shop she should know this better than anyone.

    As a 25-year resident of ER, I appreciate the changes that have improved our community in the form of new shops, restaurants, the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts and the art galleries. ER was a much more dangerous place 25 years ago with high crime and gang activity. Saying the pot dispensaries and massage parlors are taking ER to hell in a hand basket is a stretch. I appreciate that the community has not gentrified at a faster pace and that the auto shops and nail salons still dot our village. Denying their right to exist would erase our history as middle-class melting pot of peoples and cultures.

    I’m afraid she just doesn’t understand our community.

  38. I’m sorry to break it to Eagle Rock folks, but Swork has saved this area from obscurity. Every community should be blessed to have a nice clean consumer friendly business featured at its most prominent and visible street location. Swork is this place. Not a CVS. Not a gas station. Not HTC, ERC, or any other pot shop pseudonym, but a dedicated local business that provides ample seating, good coffee, and friendly staff. The owner is absolutely right to champion their valid concerns for the area. I give their take more credence then I give to the food trucks who have not endured the pain of neighborhood meetings, permitting, and parking disputes that the brick and mortar places have had to endure (save for some recent attempts at truck regulation). The food trucks simply do not have the same at stake that the store owners have BECAUSE they are mobile.

  39. Long live Swork!

  40. i like eagle rock

    Eagle Rock is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I used to go to Swork frequently when I was new to the neighborhood because I like to support independent businesses. I’ve lived in many parts of the country and traveled to many parts of the world. I lived in and spent time in Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, and Vancouver BC. Those cities also had prostitution, marijuana, and food trucks. They also had better coffee than Swork… as do coffee houses in Highland Park, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Hollywood, Venice… In fact, even the starbucks across the street from Swork arguably has better coffee. Eagle Rock is a diverse neighborhood with lots of great people and great restaurants. If the owner of Swork wants to live in a “pasadena-esqe” environment… she might consider moving to Pasadena. She points out that cities like Glendale would never allow [the things] that Los Angeles does. That may be true. For example, you can’t smoke a cigarette outdoors in Glendale. Pardon my ignorance, I always thought coffee and cigarettes were a popular combination, and one that I’ve seen patrons sitting outside Swork on the corner of Eagle Rock and Colorado Blvd many times… and more people have died from coffee and from cigarettes than from marijuana. The owner says she is “tired.” She should go to a life coach or something… redirect her energy toward improving her own business instead of ranting about others and she may find that coffee house people go where there is good coffee. Frankly, it is more difficult to find good coffee in Los Angeles than it is to find good marijuana. People in Eagle Rock do their business in Eagle Rock. Its kind of like a field of [marijuana-less] dreams – SWORK- If you make better coffee, people will come.

  41. I used to go to Swork a lot when it first opened, but Cafe De Leche in Highland Park is closer to me and isn’t as crammed full of students with laptop wires crisscrossing every inch of floor. The last two times I went in there, I had to sit in “kiddy land” to drink my beverage. It didn’t seem they were lacking for business, but I was uncomfortable.

    As for the food trucks, they should be responsible for cleaning up after their dirty patrons. Lupitas Gorditas truck, which is always parked on Eagle Rock Blvd near Ave 34, sweeps up their space every single night. They also don’t park in front of brick and mortar food establishments. It’s the unwritten code of food trucks that all these newbie upstarts and their sense of entitlement don’t seem to understand.

  42. What is this whiny noise? Businesses are supposed to live and die by their customers, not city hall. Good food trucks will always do well, one off hipster coffee shops will do what one trick ponies always do. If madame is concerned about food trucks, she should try adding some killer bacon recipes to her menu (the LardOn truck) or whatever the flourishing trucks are selling because they go where the customers are buying. In other words, compete like everybody else.

    As far as turning ER into something like Old Town, it’s plain not gonna happen until we can shut down the Colorado “freeway” and model that section of road into something like Montrose did and provide some kind of reasonably priced parking facility. Good luck with that.

    All the rest of the noise about this is just that: noise.

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