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In Gentrifying East Hollywood, These Three Tienditas Fight to Survive

12:57 PM PDT on June 11, 2021

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he abrupt closure of East Hollywood's staple grocery store, Food 4 Less on Sunset Boulevard, has created a state of confusion for most of the BIPOC community that relied heavily on its services. However, as the community continues to change in the face of gentrification quickly, some constants remain at the heart of the neighborhood, specifically the multi-generational tienditas that offer a wide range of grocery options. These types of stores are unmistakably significant in BIPOC culture throughout Los Angeles.

Despite being saturated with the construction of luxury apartments and big business, the heart of the community remains intertwined with the mom-and-pop shops that have been serving the local community for decades. With tienditas located between Hollywood and Beverly Boulevards, East Hollywood locals often express a familiar respectability and gratitude to their owners. 

Instead of immediately turning to big businesses like Target or Ralph’s for your home grocery needs,  L.A. TACO sat down with the owners of three popular tienditas in the area to provide guidance for shopping local and reinvesting money into our own communities.

Spices and more at Juice Bar & Mini Market La Oaxaqueña.
Juice Bar & Mini Market La Oaxaqueña. Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

Juice Bar & Mini Market La Oaxaqueña

6025 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Hours: Mon-Fri 7 AM to 9 PM

Owner: Guillermo Cruz

First on the list is the Juice Bar & Mini Market La Oaxaqueña, located on Santa Monica Boulevard and Beachwood Drive. The store is owned by Guillermo Cruz, who describes the location as a family-oriented three-in-one shop where cultivating solid relationships with customers is a top priority.

Cruz has been in this industry for over ten years, working alongside his brother to build and manage several different storefront locations. Cruz officially took over his store four years ago, and since then, has been embraced by the surrounding community with open arms. So much so that in 2018 he received an award from the City of Los Angeles and the 13th Council District for his outstanding service to the community.

Man shows around his neighborhood market.
Guillermo Cruz gives a tour of his neighborhood market, Juice Bar & Mini Market La Oaxaqueña. Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

The name of this tienda says it all when it comes to the variety of household items and daily food options offered. Cruz’s store specializes in providing customers with traditional food options such as natural juices, smoothies, milkshakes, fruit salads, tortas and tacos, burritos, ice cream, and other Mexican Antojitos. 

The grocery items offered at the store include fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, chips, candy, cleaning products, spices, and a small selection of Oaxacan meats. Other grocery essentials for sale are canned foods, tortillas, rice, cooking oil, and a wide range of sauces. The variety in products is evidence that Cruz is committed to creating an environment that accommodates his customers' needs.

During one of these interactions, an individual excitedly yelled out, “I’ve found a Mexican Disneyland!” and proceeded to take pictures of the store.

“En este lugar hay opciones! Hay opciones tanto que te hacemos una torta o un burrito hay un jugo o opciones a la mercancía que tu quieres ver.” 

A brief discussion about gentrification proposed some insights about tourism in East Hollywood. While he is grateful for the support of his regular customers, Cruz recounts interactions with some passerby customers who often treat his store as another tourist spot. People are always coming and going and often comment about how they have never seen a store like this before.

During one of these interactions, an individual excitedly yelled out, “I’ve found a Mexican Disneyland!” and proceeded to take pictures of the store.

Nonetheless, new clients and tourists from places like New York and Germany make up a new customer demographic that Cruz welcomes with open arms. He believes that embracing tourists and new clients that marvel at the store’s lively colors and traditional decor aids in changing the negative narrative of Latinos in the U.S. 

Dario Cruz, owner of Santa Monica Grocery Store.
Dario Cruz, owner of Santa Monica Grocery Store. Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

Santa Monica Grocery Store

Location: 4621 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90029

Hours: Mon-Sun 8 AM-9:30 PM

Owner: Dario Cruz

Dario Cruz’s neighborhood market, “The Santa Monica Grocery Store,” is the epitome of what we expect a multi-generational BIPOC tienda to be. From its convenient location near the Santa Monica and Vermont Red Line Metro stop (a central public transportation hub) to its stocked shelves of traditional convenience products and treats. Cruz opened his store 24 years ago and adapted to the changing demographic by adjusting his inventory to reflect the organic food movement.

He offered me a guided tour of his store with his products on exhibit. The store carries vibrant and fresh produce; these products range from essential staples to culturally meaningful ingredients like nopales. True to its posted signage of ‘Carnicería Latina Store,’ they also offer an assortment of shelf-stable products common in Mexican and Central American households. Here you can find anything from over eight different rice options to canned chiles, tortillas, bread for the road, and so much more. 

Inside Santa Monica Grocery Store.
Inside Santa Monica Grocery Store. Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

The star of the show at this tiendita is its full-fledged carnicería which offers reasonably priced premium meat cuts. One can find different cuts of chicken, top sirloin steak, and traditional Oaxacan cuts of meats such as tasajo and cecina, chorizos, and thin-cut pork chops.

“En el año 2000 tenía, yo mucha gente Latina. Y poco a poco, ha estado cambiando,” Cruz tells L.A. TACO. 

Not only do these products appeal to the new demographic of customers, but they also provide more options on Latino products that can reach a larger scale of people.

When asked how the gentrification of East Hollywood has impacted business over the years, Cruz commented on the changing demographic, which now includes individuals of Korean, Philipino, and white ethnicities as the Latino population gets smaller. 

“Esta comunidad ha cambiado y como buen negociante tengo que dar otros productos y buscar lo que la gente requiere para poder seguir el negocio.”

Cruz also shared how he has managed to expand his product options to serve more individuals outside of just the Latino community. He has successfully done this by being innovative in the products he brings into the store. A few specific examples of these products are the different options of organic canned beans and spinach flour tortillas. Not only do these products appeal to the new demographic of customers, but they also provide more options on Latino products that can reach a larger scale of people.

Although Cruz describes his store as being small in square footage, it is evident that the mission of his business is to serve the surrounding community and continue to make a huge impact.

Sasoun Produce
Sasoun Produce. Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

Sasoun Produce

Location: 5116 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029, USA

Hours: Tues-Sun  9 AM-5 PM

Owner: Rita

The last small grocery store featured in this guide is Sasoun Produce, also conveniently located in the heart of East Hollywood near Santa Monica and Normandie. Rita (preferred to only go by her first name), the brains behind this woman-owned operation, describes her store as a combination of a traditional L.A.-style tiendita and a small-scale health food store. 

Sasoun Produce is a multi-generational business that has been open since 2014. The store is associated with Sasoun Bakery (owned by her brother and located right next door), a popular bakery serving the community for over 30 years. For the last eight years, this store has become a trendsetting Health Food Store to introduce health and wellness back into the community.

The store specializes in selling specialty foods shipped from international suppliers. Some of the tropical and unique fruits out on display include pink pineapple, yellow and orange watermelons, limited edition strawberries, and dragon fruit. Rita detailed that the most popular health item for her Latino customers is Soursop or Guanabana, a fruit high in vitamin C. The store also sells sea moss, a type of algae or seaweed believed to help with anti-aging and anti-inflammatory benefits in various forms.

“The business is getting better day by day. Since day one,” she says.

The products sold at this store appeal to a blend of cultures, specifically Middle Eastern, American, and Latino clientele. Additionally, the store sells regular produce at reasonable prices for everyday cooking and eating. Shelves are stocked with foods commonly used in households across the area, such as rice, pasta, canned foods, countless nut options, baking items, herbal tea blends, and whole coffee beans. There is also an assortment of refrigerated items to choose from, such as milk (non-dairy alternatives included), cheeses, and frozen items. The store also sells classic quick-grab convenience items and snacks.

Sasoun Produce. Photo by Angela Burgos for L.A. TACO.

Being a newer addition to the long line of similar stores in the area, Rita expressed that her experience with gentrification has been different than neighboring stores. She mentions that because the local community prefers to shop at small businesses like hers, she has felt very supported by all of her customers, both the regulars and tourist types.

“The business is getting better day by day. Since day one,” she says.

While Sasoun Produce takes a more modern and health-centric approach to the small-grocery market, it is clear that the surrounding community values the services that Rita and her team provide. Rita’s hope for the future is that newer and older generations of grocery shoppers alike will become more health-conscious regarding their food consumption. Why not start this journey with fresh produce and delicacies found right at Sasoun Produce

A closer look of these three BIPOC owned stores in East Hollywood reveals that these businesses have been meeting the needs of a diverse and changing demographic for more than just the past year. One of the main reasons these businesses are still standing firm is the support of their customers; for one reason or another, people seem to respond to products and services that these stores offer.  Shopping at one of these three small grocery stores is an excellent place to start for East Hollywood locals who may already be feeling the effects of the Food 4 Less closure (I know I am).

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