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L.A.’s First Legal Liquor Store on Wheels Will Be Selling Booze on the Streets Starting Next Week

[dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]an a traditional liquor store in one of L.A.’s most notorious barrios offer higher-quality (and higher-priced) artisanal-craft products without alienating their old-school Latino customer base?

Yes, and in the case of Sara’s Market in City Terrace, you can be so successful at it that you can expand the concept into L.A.’s first barrio liquor store on wheels—complete with booze.

Starting Monday, the neighborhood institution will start taking their ‘hood-beloved goods and truly people-first tiendita philosophy on the road via their panel van-turned Sara’s Market On the Go mobile liquor store.  

“We hear people tell us all the time, ‘Oh we love what you guys are doing but we don’t want to drive to East L.A. and City Terrace, it’s too far! So this is our way to expose ourselves to different areas around Los Angeles,” Steven and Sara share with L.A. Taco over the phone, completing each other’s sentences and even saying the same words at the same time because they are so excited about it. 

Not even 24 hours after announcing that Sara’s On the Go was officially taking orders online for their first day out in the streets next week, the online orders started to come in. They have about a dozen already.

“Think of the pop-up model for food, but for a liquor store,” Sara adds for a comparison. She informs L.A. Taco that they are considering popping up alongside some pop-up taquerías and other food vendors to create an impromptu food and drink community on the spot.   

Their model will be cashless right now due to COVID-19 and provide the transaction as contact-free as possible. Customers will have to purchase their goods beforehand online on their website via Toast. However, Steven and Sara do share that they plan on having a few extra goodies available for walk-up customers walking by to purchase via mobile cashless Apps like Venmo and Paypal. 

Whether its a bag of Springfield pinto beans or handmade Toluca-style chorizo verde, a Modelo tallboy or a bottle of Pliny the Elder or a refreshing natural wine founded by comedian Eric Wareheim, the Sara’s Market experiment is proof that despite the polarizing conversation around gentrification in Los Angeles, it is possible to delicately balance both kinds of customer demographics and be profitable.

As independent business owners themselves who know firsthand the difficulties associated with running a liquor store in urban areas of Los Angeles, Steven and Sara share that they also are going to be extra mindful of the proximity of nearby convenience stores as they decide their future pop-up locations. “I would hate it if someone did that to me!” Steven chimes in. As for the first round of tour stops, the couple is considering Long Beach and Hollywood, “but definitely not Silver Lake.”  

Regarding the legality of selling alcohol in the streets, Steven and Sara confirm that they both personally checked in with the Alcoholic Beverage Control to make sure their dream project was up-to-code. It turns out that the same coronavirus-based flexibility that is allowing restaurants to sell to-go cocktails and alcohol for the first time also can be applied to this concept.    

From the inception of the idea, while buzzed one day to the tricked-out fully functioning truck with sick-ass rims, it all took less than a month. They both credit their close friend Rick Ortega from Kernel of Truth Organics tortilleria for pushing them to execute the idea and connecting them with the right people to make it all happen as quickly as it did. Not to mention the need to safely provide their loyal customers with options to get them the products they need, since their famously tiny hot pink storefront can only fit a handful of customers at a time.

Through the support of their loyal following and several write-ups from local publications and newspapers, the demand for this unique Craft-meets-Paisa liquor store model is allowing Steven and Sara to finally bring their innovative concept to other neighborhoods in Los Angeles. 

Whether its a bag of Springfield-brand pinto beans or handmade Toluca-style chorizo verde, or a Modelo tallboy or a bottle of Pliny the Elder, or a refreshing natural wine founded by comedian Eric Wareheim, the Sara’s Market experiment is proof that despite the polarizing conversation around gentrification in Los Angeles, it is possible to delicately balance both kinds of customer demographics and be profitable. The liquor store has changed its name a few times since Sara’s uncle first opened it in 1956. Followed by her mother taking it over in 1985. In 2014, the couple first started to slowly introduce new craft items when they took liquor store baton. 

Sara reflects, “The plan was always to add, never to take away. We knew we had to respect [my family’s] customers that have supported us but also we’re aware of our new customers.” When asked about how quickly their “On the Go” extension came together, she answers, “I usually have a gut feeling about things, it’s hard to explain.”

Through the support of their loyal following and several write-ups from local publications and newspapers, the demand for this unique Craft-meets-Paisa liquor store model is allowing Steven and Sara to finally bring their innovative concept to other neighborhoods in Los Angeles. 

The couple is the most excited about a “Mystery Pack” of four 16-ounce unannounced craft beers for $8—a deal for this category of drinks.

And yes, Steven and Sara have confirmed that may just play an ice cream truck-style jingle, “Or the Scarface theme song,” jokes Sara. “I’m very excited, but yes also anxious about it all.”

Follow Sara’s Market On the Go on Instagram to see their list of stops where they will be stopping. They will be open on Mondays and Tuesdays starting next week. 

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