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Coffee house owner set to brew

Posted: November 20, 2012 6:38 p.m.
Updated: November 20, 2012 6:38 p.m.

Coffee House owner Sylvia Hillo sits outside her shop in Newhall. Hillo, a culinary arts graduate, took over the coffee shop in August and has been running it with the help of friends and family.

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Sylvia Hillo is surrounded by coffee and tea for 12 hours a day, seven days a week — but the new owner of The Coffee House on Lyons Avenue rarely gets the chance to sit down and enjoy a cup.

“Anytime I make myself a latte, a customer walks in,” said Hillo, who took over the coffee shop in August from its previous owners. “It’s turned into my good luck charm.”

The Coffee House is Hillo’s first business venture, after graduating from the Hollywood campus of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and stretches as a waitress and in the case management field. The 31-year-old, who lives a block away, frequented The Coffee House under the previous owners.

“I found out they wanted to sell or close it, and I thought ‘hmm,’” Hillo said. In June, she approached the couple about taking over the shop, making her the fourth owner in 12 years, she said.

“I said, ‘I really want it, but I don’t have much to offer you,’” said Hillo. She personally financed the sublease agreement and currently all profits are going back into the business.

Hillo makes every menu item herself, from the quiches and soups to the waffles and scones. She does her own shopping for all the ingredients, typically going to the grocery store every day after work. The coffee is from a manufacturer in nearby Vernon.

“I like to keep the menu changing, seasonal,” she said. “I still have to play with what works.”
While Hillo didn’t have any prior business experience, she had absorbed a lot from her time as a waitress and hospitality classes at Le Cordon Bleu. Still, occasionally she forgets that she’s the owner.

“All of the sudden it was mine,” she said. “I’ll still ask people, ‘Is that OK? Do you think this is OK?’ even though it’s up to me.”

But she’s still learning something new every day — like what to do when your air conditioner and freezer break in the middle of August.

“Expect the unexpected,” she said with a laugh.

While Hillo is “the baker, cashier, buser and mopper,” she has had the help of her extended family, friends and boyfriend, who all help with the physical shop as well as social networking and marketing.

Many of her customers are CalArts and The Master’s College students, but The Coffee House has also become a meeting spot for various knitting clubs and motorcycle groups. Hillo has also been organizing art and music events to bring more people to the shop.

“I’ve been saying yes to every group or idea,” she said.

Saying “yes” to it all has kept Hillo plenty busy for the last three months — or as she describes it, “this has all just been one long day to me.”

The Coffee House is at 23414 Lyons Ave. in Newhall and can be reached at 661-200-3287.


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