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Coffee shop the buzz of Toluca Lake

Jackson Bell

Like many other businesses in today’s grim economic climate,

Priscilla’s Gourmet Coffee, Tea & Gifts has lost some of its client

base.

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But co-owners Shannon and Mark Hartman aren’t too worried because,

unlike other struggling businesses, the coffee shop’s biggest problem

is its popularity.

“Customers tell us all the time that they decided not to come in

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because we’re so busy,” Shannon Hartman said.

The 33-year-old shop, strategically located on the western border

of Toluca Lake and Media District West, caters to area residents as

well as employees of the entertainment industry.

The store sells 75 varieties of coffee beans -- five of which are

brewed daily -- along with 32 loose-leaf and several boxed teas.

Along with typical coffee shop fare such as croissants, muffins and

cookies, Priscilla’s features 10 flavors of gelato as well as

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sandwiches and salads made locally by Taste Buds Catering.

Shannon Hartman said the goal of Priscilla’s is to provide strong

customer relations. That, she believes, is something larger chain

stores can’t offer.

“As for [large chains such as] Starbucks, more power to them,”

Mark Hartman said. “But in a big pond, we don’t mind being the little

fish.”

Shannon Hartman was first inspired by a favorite coffee shop she

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frequented in England while studying abroad. In 1988, she and Mark

bought Priscilla’s -- named after the school teacher who founded it

-- and, in 1993, moved it a few blocks east on Riverside Drive to its

current location next to the Falcon Theatre.

But despite its proximity to the heart of Media District West, the

Hartmans remain unaffected by celebrities or industry stature.

“We treat everyone the same, which is kind of strange in this

town,” Mark Hartman said. “But I think a lot of people appreciate

that.”

Toluca Lake resident Ray Baumann, who frequents the shop, said

Shannon Hartman has ingeniously created an inviting environment.

“I like Priscilla’s because I feel comfortable here and know

everyone else that comes here,” he said.

Baumann, who once worked in the entertainment industry, said the

place has a reputation as a hangout for aspiring actors hoping to get

“discovered” by an agent, producer or studio executive.

The Hartmans said the reputation exists because of the shop’s

high-profile clientele, but wannabes makes up a tiny fraction of the

customer base.

“On any given day, someone famous can show up,” he said.


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