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Sweetsalt Triumphs in Toluca Lake

The once tiny eatery of chef Alex Eusebio expands with huge popularity.

, the , owned and operated by chef Alex Eusebio, expanded earlier this year into the space formerly occupied by the Shear Pleasure Barbershop, owned by Eleanor Rodriguez.

Eleanor was proud of Eusebio, as he worked his way up from nothing as she did. 

“She was like a mother to me,” said Eusebio, who was chef at Manhattan’s hot Coy Ocho before moving west to start his own restaurants. “She was really, really warm and sensitive, one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. Anyone who knows Eleanor knows what I mean. She was a very loving person.

“She always told me I reminded her of herself. Because I own this place but I work here as well. Just like she did in her shop, where she worked for years. She came from nothing and opened the shop on a shoe-string budget. She worked all day.

Eusebio said that Eleanor watched as his business took off, and was thrilled for him.

“Originally when we opened the shop, we were going to be a very small, sleepy shop. Just a neighborhood shop. I thought maybe we’d do ten people a day. On the first day, 100 people came. And Eleanor noticed. And she would say, `One day, when I retire, I want you to move into my shop.’ And here I am,” Eusebio said.

Born in Madrid and raised in the Dominican Republic and later Manhattan, he's classically trained in French and Spanish cuisine. A finalist on the 5th season ofTop Chef,  he first created the Echo Park restaurant 15 before moving to Toluca Lake to work as Executive Chef at 818 on Riverside Drive, across the street from Sweetsalt.

“That’s where I met my wife,” he said. “I fell in love with her and I fell in love with Toluca Lake.

When the mailbox business closed next to Shear in January of 2010, he took it over to start Sweetsalt.

“Originally it was going to be a sweet shop – ice cream, candies,” he said. “My wife wanted a sweetshop. But I wanted to do something savory – sandwiches. Then when we designed it, we thought it would be cool to have one side sweet, one side salty. But I made a math mistake on the width of the place, so our idea went out the window because we didn’t have enough room! So we combined both into one and called it Sweetsalt.”

With a deliciously eclectic menu that features famous Sweetsalt creations such as the Lavender Duck sandwich, with pulled duck confit, the braised Short Rib sandwich and a Lobster Roll sandwich, Sweetsalt has become a neighborhood phenomena.

“Sandwiches fly out the window,” he said. “People here like healthy, good food. And the things we offer, you can’t get anywhere else around here. It’s different. We’re a neighborhood place. We know everybody, everybody knows us. Dinner is quiet, just people around here. That’s all. We don’t advertise because we don’t wanna be any more than that. It’s a great neighborhood; they treat us nice and we treat them nice back. It works out.”

He started expansion in October of last year, and in January 2012, he opened the newly expanded Sweetsalt.

“When we expanded into Eleanor’s space, it was bittersweet,” Eusebio said. “It was good for us, but sad to see that happening, see her place go away. But the roots of the building stayed intact.”

In her honor, he’s left Eleanor’s painted sign for Shear Pleasure on the back door.

“Yeah, we don’t want to take that down,” he said. “My office chair is her own shampoo chair We honor all these memories of Eleanor. And we always will.”

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