In the now-infamous summer of 2020, the Baziks’ new business had customers lining up down the block.
SarahCotta Plants opened its Glendale doors that July, a bold move by its married owners, Sarah and Tadeh. Their store grew from tough soil — the summer the pandemic shuttered many small businesses — but it’s still thriving two years later. Now, standing behind the shop’s wood counter, the Baziks answer the big question: How?
Tadeh thinks people needed an escape from pandemic stress.
“Looking back, I can’t believe that actually happened,” he said, wearing a black T-shirt, matching with his wife. “Back then, people were so scared. There was no vaccine, you know, the fact that people would even come here was amazing.”
Sarah said that attracting customers was never the problem. In the shop’s early months, the Baziks let in only two people at once and required masks. They’d leave every night at 10, and when they came back in the morning, customers were already waiting outside. Nurses from nearby Adventist Health, still in their scrubs, stopped by to pick out plants.
Though they had the customers, the real hurdle was the inventory, Sarah said. They scoured for plants, usually in San Diego, trying to purchase enough types to fill their shop. The plants would arrive at distribution centers and sell fresh off the truck, and either the Baziks grabbed them or another plant shop would. Even now filling inventory can be difficult, but the shop feels full.
Wedged between a hair salon and an air duct business, the Baziks manage to make a small space feel airy. It’s plant-packed, as expected, with glass vials of cuttings on one wall and a white cabinet of rare plants on the other. Then there’s Sarah and Tadeh, a lively couple toiling away in the middle of it all. There’s only one employee, who runs the counter; the Baziks manage everything else. The store closes on Mondays and Tuesdays as they shop for new plants, clean them, add them in the system and take photos. On Wednesday, they restock and reopen.
Working together means Sarah and Tadeh are together “24 hours a day.” They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been with him since I was 18 years old, and I’ve never been bored of him ever,” Sarah said. “All of my friends all the time are like, ‘How do you work with your husband every single day?’ I’m like, ‘It’s the best!’ I don’t want to work with anybody else. Like I can’t imagine not working with him.”
“Imagine working with your best friend,” Tadeh added.
Facebook played matchmaker back in 2010, when Sarah posted about getting a new phone and asked her friends to send their numbers. She and Tadeh had never met but he coyly sent her his number anyway. They messaged for months, even when Tadeh visited Armenia for the first time and she was still in California.
“Instead of visiting the country, I’m sitting there at 3 in the morning on my laptop talking to her because I know she’s awake,” Tadeh said as Sarah smiled. “I fell in love with her before I even met her face to face.”
When he came back, they met in person, and years later, Tadeh proposed when visiting Sarah’s family in Armenia. Though they planned to marry at the end of 2020, they spontaneously wed on a trip to Cancun with friends in 2019 — in the nick of time before the pandemic hit.
Both Armenian, the Baziks found their fluency in the language especially handy in Glendale, which has one of the largest Armenian populations outside of Armenia itself. Sarah traces her plant passion to her grandmother’s garden in Armenia. Her grandmother would lead her through herbs and hoya plants, pointing out each type and how it grew. While her mother had a black thumb, her grandmother could grow anything.
Tadeh tested whether it ran in the family. Seven years ago, he gave Sarah her first plant: a glossy fiddle-leaf fig. It’s notoriously difficult to keep alive, but Sarah grew it into something big and beautiful. Tadeh had unknowingly started a “healthy addiction.” Their apartment evolved into a jungle, with more than 100 plants filling all the corners.
Sarah recruited not only Tadeh but all her friends into her plant frenzy, hosting potting parties and handing out plant cuttings. And while her friends encouraged them to start a store, she and Tadeh insisted it was just a hobby — until the pandemic.
As COVID-19 spurred a new era of outdoor activity, the Baziks opted for biking. While driving to buy Sarah a new bike, Tadeh noticed a “For Lease” sign — a side effect of his real estate agent eyes. They continued on and bought the bike, but something tugged on them to stop at the open space on the way home. The interior was a disaster but the Baziks weren’t fazed.
“We were just looking around, and then I’m like, how much is the rent?” Tadeh said. “And he told us and out of nowhere, I looked at Sarah and I’m like, ‘You know that thing you’ve always been talking about, about doing a plant shop? Should we do it?’”
“And then we were like … OK! We literally signed the lease that day,” Sarah said, standing in that same space (which now shows no trace of once being a disaster). “If you keep waiting and waiting, trying to find the right place, like if we planned on finding the right place …”
“You’re never gonna find the right time,” Tadeh finished.
So they went to work, Tadeh turning his real estate career into a side gig as they both devoted themselves full-time to SarahCotta Plants. (The name is a blend of terracotta, their favorite plant pots, and Sarah’s name, which Tadeh jokes sounded better than his.)
Their house is the store’s prep center. In their home greenhouse, they organize, sift and clean through what they’ve bought, label plants and snap photos for their website. Their 1-year-old son, Kylo, gets to grow up in the jungle of it all. When the Baziks bring him into the shop, he explores the terrain but doesn’t knock anything over.
He’s a particularly peaceful toddler, which the Baziks attribute to the calm environment. “We’re raising him like one of our plants,” Tadeh laughed.
And it’s not just Kylo who is learning to be a plant person. Since opening, the Baziks have embarked on a mission to develop everyone’s green thumb. That’s why Sarah loves cuttings — even if a customer accidentally kills a plant, sometimes a piece of it can be salvaged and used to grow a new one. After all, their main goal is to make everyone a plant person, and two years after opening, they’re seeing the fruits of their efforts. The Baziks love when customers become friends and enjoy seeing them with thriving plants they bought in the store’s early days.
“I feel like plants were just a way for all of us to escape all the insanity that’s going out there,” Tadeh said of the shop’s start. “And just on like a human level, talk about something totally natural and totally nonpandemic and not about dying and not about all the negative stuff. Once you guys step in here, forget about whatever that’s going on out there.”
As some pandemic restrictions have ebbed, SarahCotta Plants still stands as a remnant of the good that came out of a turbulent time. And it persists as an escape for those having a hard day.
Sarah calls two things “meant to be.” The first: her marriage to Tadeh. And the second: opening this plant store.
“It’s how many people that we helped become plant people that became friends,” Sarah said. “It’s meeting new people and talking to them and becoming friends, to them coming to my son’s first birthday party. It’s those core memories that I’ll remember forever.”