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BRENTWOOD : Where There's Coffee, There's a Klatch


When Charles Yamasaki opened his Smoothie King store in Brentwood earlier this year, he planned on two things--offering a variety of healthy drinks and not serving coffee.

But after six months of doing business in one of the most java-laden areas on the Westside, the caffeine, via a frozen drink called the Hawaiian Cafe Au Lait, has begun to flow.

"There's a coffeehouse next to me, one right across the street and another diagonally across the street," Yamasaki said of his first business. "I took a look around and thought if I want to succeed here, I better get in this game."

In the past year, half a dozen coffeehouses have opened in Brentwood, providing coffee drinkers in the upscale area with dozens of varieties of their favorite drink.

Starbucks, the leader in designer coffee shops, has opened a second location in Brentwood "because our first store was bursting at the seams," one manager said.

"Brentwood is a place where people like to walk," said Gundi Nemling, manager of Kelly's, a coffeehouse that offers in-store baked goods. "Right now, coffee is a very 'in' thing."

Nemling said the coffee craze in Los Angeles is a natural extension of what Europeans discovered long ago.

"The Viennese coffeehouses are famous all over the world," she said. "It's a way of life that Europeans have always loved. I'm not surprised that people here are falling in love with coffee and coffeehouses."

Though the scramble for the Brentwood coffee buck may give store owners the jitters, those in search of a good cup of joe couldn't be happier.

"I guess you could say coffee has been good to me," said Stacey Luchs, 28, laughing. "There is so much variety here. Kelly's is more comfortable inside, and there's not a lot of attitude. But on the weekends Starbucks is the place to be seen.

"You have a choice of the kind of coffee, the atmosphere and the people, depending on what mood you're in and what side of the street you park on."

Luchs said she feels it's unfortunate that coffee has become so "trendy." But there is a positive social side to people flocking to coffeehouses at all hours.

"Instead of going out for drinks after dinner, you go for a coffee," she said. "It's safer and better for you than having a drink at a bar. It's a nice change."

For Yamasaki, coming up with a "smoothie" version of a coffee drink was the most logical choice for his shop.

"I wanted to offer something that was healthier than the others, but still had the coffee base," he said. "I still think it's strange that I run a store that specializes in healthy drinks and I'm serving coffee, but I suppose if everything's in moderation I can live with it."

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