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Coffee shop dream becomes a nightmare

Local owner tries to sell struggling cafe in Newhall

Posted: July 28, 2009 7:38 p.m.
Updated: July 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Twenty-year-old Lily Burnett, right, sips on her coffee with Bavani Selvarajah, 19, and William Keegan, 24, as they hang out outside Town Grind Coffee Cafe in Newhall on Friday.

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It seemed like the perfect plan.

Early last year, Rick Greenland, who was retired after 22 years as a chiropractor, decided with his wife to step out in a new direction.

They purchased the Town Grind Coffee Cafe at the corner of Lyons Avenue and Apple Street, taking the helm of the java shop in April 2008.

“This was her passion,” Greenland said. “She loves this place.”

Tucked off Lyons Avenue just a stone’s throw from one of Santa Clarita’s myriad Starbucks coffee shops, the Town Grind is finished in tile and dark wood, with small tables lining the wall and hefty leather chairs near the front window.

That was then.

The coffee shop is not pulling in the kind of money they’d been led to believe it would, Greenland said, and in recent months he has slashed both his staff and the business’ hours.

Greenland and two of his four daughters staff the shop. His wife started a day care business to pick up some of the financial slack.

Expectations of making $400 per day faded in the reality of collecting only about $200 per day, he said.

Greenland, 54, said the couple has barely been able to afford the $2,800 monthly rent for  the 900-square-foot shop, let alone the mortgage on their Canyon Country home.

“We didn’t do our homework,” Greenland said Monday. “We’re living life on the edge.

“I just wish it was making a profit.”

He said his business took a noticeable blow when a 7-Eleven opened just a few doors down last October.

Greenland took another hit before closing up shop Monday afternoon, when he was served with an eviction notice, citing three months’ rent that’s owed.

“They would get paid in full if I could get a buyer,” he said, and added he has been trying to sell the cafe but buyers are put off by rent that is higher than other nearby shopping centers.

He said the property owners have been unwilling to adjust his rent.

Greenland said he’s supplemented the low income at the Town Grind by offering delivery of salads and sandwiches on the cafe’s menu.

He said he’s developed a base of teachers in local schools who place frequent orders.

“The teachers kind of saved us,” he said.

If Greenland cannot turn things around, the Town Grind may become another vacant face in the Old West-themed shopping center.

China Palace, a longtime fixture in the center, shut its doors recently, and at least two other storefronts are vacant.

Greenland said he’s considered going back into chiropractic, but he’d like to retain a food preparation and delivery business.

With the handwriting seemingly on the wall, a group of local artists are trying to drum up business for the Town Grind.

Natalia Soukias said she learned of the coffee shop’s travails recently when she inquired about a job after returning from studying in London.

She set about organizing a Friday night art swap last week, aiming to create an event for local artists and to bring in some business for Greenland.

She was pleased with the turnout of about 50 people and said the plan for this Friday is to hold an open-mic event and film screening from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Soukias, 20, lamented what she described as a lack of more artistically oriented events locally.

“There isn’t much to do in Santa Clarita that’s free,” the Saugus resident said. “The only thing you can really do in Santa Clarita is buy stuff.”

With the formation of GOYA — short for “Get Off Your Ass” — Soukias said she hopes to see more people coming to Newhall for creative events and to support small businesses.

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