“Certainly an era has come to an end by the closing of ,” wrote Patch reader Deborah Colman about the closing of the barbershop at 10280 Riverside Drive which was owned and operated by Eleanor Rodriguez since the era of the Beatles.
“Eleanor and her shop are a legend,” wrote Colman, and it’s true. The first female barber to own and operate her own store in Los Angeles, she employed an all-female crew of eight full-time barbers, one of whom was a former Vegas showgirl.
Her customers included several stars, including Toluca Lake resident Andy Griffith, as well as Ephrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Paul Henning, the creator of TV’s The Beverly Hillbillies, with whom many say she had a romance.
took over the space next to Shear Pleasure in 2009, and expanded in January of this year into the former barbershop space. It was an expansion that came with Eleanor’s blessing, according to chef-owner Alex Eusebio, 37.
“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.
“I would come all the time into her shop. I’d talk to the ladies for hours sometimes. They were really nice people. It’s a shame that it’s gone because it was a unique, old-school barbershop. It wasn’t for kids, and it wasn’t for women. Men only. And she took pride in that.”
He knew her age was making it difficult for her to run the business.
“She was 83 and running her own business, and she started having problems. Some days she wouldn’t have money And people were stealing from her. Also business was slow for quite awhile, but she didn’t care at that point. One day, honestly, she just wasn’t around. She just stopped. And they closed the shop,” Eusebio said.
Eusebio was later informed by Eleanor’s sisters that she’d suffered a stroke, and was moved into a nursing home in Santa Monica, where she she’s currently living.
Her sisters also informed Eusebio that Eleanor, who not only owned her business but also the entire building, would make her space available for rental to only one man: Alex Eusebio.
“This is her wish,” he said. “She gave me her blessing, and that was really important to me.”
According to an L.A. Time profile of her in 1986, she was born in 1937, the third of nine children in Santa Monica to Mexican-American parents. Married at 14, a mother by 15, she worked at Bullocks in Westwood. She divorced her husband, an alcoholic, after seven years and raised her son, Robert Estrada, alone.
In 1958, she was among the first women ever to enroll in barber college. Upon graduation she apprenticed at a barbershop in skid row, at 5th and San Pedro in downtown. It took her some time to land a job at a barbershop, since none wanted to hire a woman. Eventually she was hired at a shop in Toluca Lake, where she gradually built her customer base, including several movie and TV stars.
When long-time customer and Toluca Lake resident Andy Griffith heard that she wanted to start her own business, he offered her a $10,000 loan. She declined.
She opened her first shop in 1967 in Toluca Lake, and moved twice before settling in its final location in 1978. She had a estimated 2000 regular clients. “We are the biggest barbershop in the area,” she told the L.A. Times in 1986.
Other customers included the late Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood, who once called her from Vietnam, where he was on tour entertaining the troops, to make an appointment for the day of his return.
The actor Ephrem Zimbalist, Jr. said that once, on a trans-Atlantic flight, he discovered that the passenger sitting beside him was also a Shear Pleasure regular.
The writer-producer Paul Henning, creator of The Beverly Hillbillies, also a regular, was said to have had a long romance with Eleanor.
“"She is wonderful, so intuitively bright," Henning said to the L.A. Times in 1986. “She made it without the benefit of any sophisticated education.”
Her life was not without tragedy. In 1979, her beloved son Robert Estrada was murdered. An Army helicopter pilot stationed in Germany, he was in the midst of making a tape recording as a mother’s day gift for Eleanor when he was killed. A former boyfriend of his wife was charged with the killing but never convicted. Eleanor enlisted the help of one of her customers, a lawyer, to pursue the case, but ultimately abandoned it.
"I decided not to pursue it any longer," she said. "Nothing will bring him back."
Alex 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.
A Manhattan native, Eusebio moved to Toluca Lake in 2005 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.”