M.M. – East LA + Boyle Heights // Yash La Casa Market


In the Summer of 2011, the first East LA Market Makeover store was revealed: Yash La Casa Market. A Market Makeover Team consisting of ELARA Student Interns, UCLA CPHHD, Nathan Cheng, Public Matters, Volunteers of East LA (VELA), and local community members worked to transform the store and its concrete slab backyard into a welcoming and healthy oasis.


The physical transformation was just the beginning of the comprehensive Market Makeover strategy. For three years, the Market Makeover Team carried out activities and events that turned Yash into an open, community resource. 



Yash La Casa Market had an interior typical of most corner or liquor stores: the familiar wall of chips, racks of candy, refrigerators stocked with soda and other sweetened beverages, walls and ceilings covered with ads for alcoholic beverages. It’s a large store, as far as convenience stores go, but it felt dark and cramped. The space also didn’t feel particularly friendly.


Nathan Cheng’s plan included making the store a more warm, inviting place to shop, a retail space that reflects the friendly, hospitable qualities of its storeowners, who have run this family business since 2002 and are very much a part of the East LA community.


The Market Makeover:

  • opened up the space;
  • consolidated the store inventory in a more organized manner;
  • increased efficiency and promoted a better sense of spatial flow throughout the store;
  • and brought natural light in by opening up the front windows to the street.


A fundamental change, we brought in a new produce refrigeration case to house Yash’s fresh fruit + vegetable inventory!




The store’s interior wasn’t the only area to get an overhaul. Public Matters worked with Nathan Cheng and the Songu Family to come up with the new color palette + design treatment for the market’s exterior. The selected color palette reinforced the freshness of the inventory of fruits + vegetables inside as well as the edible garden in the backyard.


The wooden fence in the backyard got a colorful facelift, via graphic large-scale fruit + vegetable silhouettes drawn + painted by the Market Makeover Crew. (Many thanks to Volunteers of East Los Angeles (VELA) for the donation of paint!)


The exterior side wall on Hazard got a graphic treatment, calling attention to the garden on the other side.



A Market Makeover is  a long-term endeavor. The time immediately after a store’s physical transformation is crucial. You want to make sure you keep the momentum going, the public visibility up, and the customers buying the newly installed fresh inventory.


MercadoFRESCO interns from the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA) at Esteban Torres High School took advantage of the expansive side wall on Yash La Casa Market’s Hazard side. They created a series of chalkboard murals that promoted the market, its fresh seasonal produce and the importance of healthy eating.

  • The Christmas 2011 mural, conceived by ELARA student Damaris Vega and executed by the whole class, with help from Luz De Leon let the neighborhood know about discounts on fruits and veggies.
  • An interactive piece invited community members to share their New Year’s Resolutions for 2012. Conceived of by MercadoFRESCO interns | ELARA students Jocelyn Herrera + Andy Alvarez and produced with the help of their fellow students from the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA) at Esteban Torres High School, the mural wished the residents of East Los Angeles a heart healthy start to 2012.
  • March 2012’s mural promoted a Multicultural Cooking Demo, and encouraged cross-cultural culinary exploration.
  • October and November 2012 showcased Halloween and Thanksgiving themes, respectively.


Kicking off 2012 in tasty fashion, the MercadoFRESCO interns at the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA) at Esteban Torres High School promoted Yash La Casa Market’s profile as a community health resource in East Los Angeles with cooking demonstrations. COOKING FOR ALL AGES, conceived and organized by ELARA students Liliana Guizar + Shirley Ramirez with guidance + assistance from our friends at Network for A Healthy California, got the whole family involved in the fun process of preparing healthy, delicious meals.


Family-friendly recipes included: “Papaya Boat,” “Fruit Dip,” “Ants on a Log (with celery),” and Corn + Green Chili Salad. YUM!


MercadoFRESCO interns | ELARA students Lilybeth Hernandez + Martha Mejia were curious about gardening. Now that Yash La Casa Market had a lovely edible garden in the backyard, they really wanted to promote the garden as an educational resource for the East Los Angeles community.


They reached out to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church across the street to see if they could present a gardening workshop to one of the elementary school classes. They consulted with Master Gardener Jenn Su about curriculum materials and, recycling old milk crates from Yash and lining them with landscaping fabric, taught elementary school students how they too could plant edibles in containers at home.


Offering culinary adventures in a backyard garden on the corner of Hazard + Hammel Streets in East L.A., the PAN-ASIAN COOKING DEMO at Yash La Casa Market on Sunday, March 11, 2012 showed that diverse cuisines offer delicious, flavorful dishes that prominently feature fruits + vegetables.


The event was conceived, organized and promoted by students at the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA) at Esteban Torres High School. Led by MercadoFRESCO interns Catherine Martinez, Clara Mejia + Naomi Ortiz, these enthusiastic community health leaders pulled off an inspired event that drew over 50 participants.


The promotion crew wielded signs dressed as giant fruits + vegetables and offered free samples of Kulwant’s fresh mango lassi served from a repurposed a cardboard lemonade stand, on loan from the amazing Jenn Su. Featured recipes included “Tava Fry Masala” + “Fresh Mango Lassi” from India demonstrated by Kulwant, “Kimchi” from Korea demonstrated by Master Food Preserver Jenn Su and “Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls” demonstrated by the ELARA students.


Gardens require a lot of care + commitment, as the MercadoFRESCO interns | ELARA students learned in 2012. A number of the plants in Yash’s backyard garden seemed to struggle so we brought in Master Gardener Lucila Caro to help out. After looking over the garden, she determined that amending the soil with additional nitrogen would help. We broke out the garden tools.


The plan included growing black-eyed peas, which bring more nitrogen and nutrients back to the soil, from seed. After growing the peas, cutting down the plants and turning them to mulch, we were primed to replant in the fall.


With guidance from avid gardener | volunteer Jackie Illum and MercadoFRESCO Community Liaison (+ ELARA alum) Lilybeth Hernandez, the hardworking team carried out the garden plan designed by Market Makeover guru Nathan Cheng.


Not all dirt and sweat, our garden crew took a break during fall planting to participate in a Pickling Demo by Master Food Preserver Jenn Su, who showed them how to make “Firecracker Carrot Pickles.” Each student got to make their own jar of pickles (and of course take them home to enjoy).

This project was supported under a subcontract with the UCLA Center for Population Health and Health Disparities (CPHHD) under Grant No 1P50-105188-01 from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).