'Rustic' Zweet Cafe feeds need for student hub

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Coffee culture is on the rise in Northeast Los Angeles, where the new owners of Zweet Station are preparing to join the ranks of Café de Leche, Swork, The Coffee Table and a slew of recently established caffeine-oriented shops.

Owners Kacey Sourakli, Paul Austad, Marvin Manzon and Nikki Manzon had Occidental students in mind when they decided to transform Zweet Station, located two blocks from campus on Eagle Rock Boulevard near Westdale Avenue, into Zweet Cafe.

The owners want not only to provide a space for Occidental students to study and network, but to spark a neighborhood-wide metamorphosis.

“We’re actually hoping to change the whole look of Eagle Rock to where we’re bringing this new coffee shop, similar to what Café de Leche did with York,” Marvin Manzon said. “We’re local here, we live here, so we know that part of the community is turning into young professionals, and they are supporting local businesses, so we’re trying to attract them to this side.”

The new owners will revamp the approximately 1,500 square foot interior of the space as well as the sidewalk that extends past Icelandic boutique Reykjavik Outpost and around the corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Westdale Avenue. Aside from a coffee bar, chairs and tables, design plans include a lounge area to accommodate study groups and outdoor seating. Zweet Cafe may also provide Wi-Fi.

“We’re going for an earthy, rustic kind of vibe. We want to make it a place where people will want to stay and be comfortable,” Nikki Manzon said.

The co-owners made an agreement with Jones Coffee Roasters of Pasadena to serve their coffee and are in the process of creating a seasonal menu featuring healthy sandwiches and salads. Zweet Cafe will also sell pastries, and the owners are looking into the possibility of serving crepes.

Zweet Station provided sweets and vintage sodas to the Eagle Rock community for three years before deciding to shut its doors earlier this month, making way for the new co-owners, who aim to be in operation by this summer. Nikki Manzon, Marvin Manzon, Austad and Sourakli signed a lease that allows them to stay in the space for up to 16 years. Marvin Manzon estimates that renovations will cost anywhere between $80,000–$100,000.

Enticing coffee shop patrons may not be so easy, however, according to Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce President Michael Nogueira.

“You’re seeing a lot more coffee shops pop up,” Nogueira said. “And it’s competing against the major corporations like Starbucks.”

Two coffee shops opened in the area during the last several weeks; Habitat Coffee Shop on Eagle Rock Boulevard near Verdugo Road opened its doors Feb. 13, and Tierra Mia Coffee on Monte Vista began to brew March 2. Found Coffee recently soft opened on Colorado Boulevard near Trader Joe’s.

Innovation is key in the coffee industry, which deals in trendiness almost as much as it does in caffeine. Café de Leche co-owner Matt Schodorf can attest to the importance of novelty, having opened his shop with wife Anya seven years ago.

“I think that the reason why we had some success is that there weren’t a lot of alternatives when we opened up,” Schodorf said. “We were doing something different.”

The new owners of Zweet Cafe plan to distinguish themselves by staying open late, drawing inspiration from the 24-hour Crave Café in Studio City and responding to the demand of Occidental students.

“What we’ve heard asking people around is that the library is open late for Oxy and there’s no other place for them to hangout except there, so they can come here if they want,” Marvin Manzon said.

They aim to make Zweet Cafe an accessible part of off-campus life by hiring Occidental students and hosting student group meetings.

Anyone interested in making suggestions to the owners can visit Zweet Station on Facebook or Instagram.