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Teddy Bedjakian

Episode 039

Tough Kid Turned Restaurateur

Teddy Bedjakian is the restaurateur of Edwin Mills by the Equator, located in Old Pasadena.

Teddy started at that location when it was known as Equator Coffee House. He was the one who decided to rebrand, and thus rename, the cafe to survive and thrive against the competition between coffee shops during 2014. Surviving and thriving have been a part of Teddy’s life since he was young.

His family immigrated to the US when he was seven years old from Armenia, where they were being targeted. Growing up, Teddy describes himself as a tough kid, from living in a tough neighborhood during the time when Pasadena was not the prime place to hang out.

Currently, Teddy has brought life back to the alley where his restaurant resides in Old Pasadena while going through all the difficulties the pandemic has presented to him. He enjoys bringing the history of Pasadena, particularly the building that houses his restaurant, to the awareness of all who visit his establishment.

 

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Teddy Bedjakian Quotes

  • “I went to Muir claiming Blood to a Crip neighborhood.”
  • “If you do good, you get good back.”
  • “You complain, you remain. You praise, you’ll be raised.”
  • “Because of the pandemic, many restaurants and shops around me closed. I could turn this into my own little Paris.”
  • Teddy Bedjakian is the restaurateur of Edwin Mills by the Equator, located in Old Pasadena.
  • He started at that location when it was known as Equator Coffee House. He was the one who decided to rebrand, and thus rename, the cafe to survive and thrive against the competition between coffee shop wars during 2014. Surviving and thriving have been a part of Teddy’s life since he was young.
  • His family immigrated to the US when he was seven years old from Armenia, where they were being targeted. Growing up, Teddy describes himself as a tough kid, from living in a tough neighborhood during the time when Pasadena was not the prime place to hang out.

You have a restaurant in Old Pasadena called Edwin Mills. Can you tell us about that name?

Originally, Edwin Mills was called The Equator, which started as a coffee house in 1992. I started in the restaurant business in 1996, and by 2005, I got stuck in the turf war between Starbucks and Coffee Bean.

This turf war was taking out mom-and-pop coffee shops. In 2005 I applied for a liquor license and thought, “If I get it, then I’m meant to stay here.” By October, I found out I had won the lottery for the liquor license.

In 2013, I was standing outside, and I heard some people walking by say, “Oh, that’s The Equator Coffee House,” and I knew I had to rebrand it.

The side alley is called Edwin Ward Alley, where I got Edwin, and the main street is Mills Place, and that’s how I got Mills.
 

The area seems much more lively now.

It is, and a lot of that has to do with the live bands we have playing outside. Before the pandemic, live music was inside, and the city said you couldn’t have any more live entertainment.

So, because of the pandemic, many restaurants and shops around me closed. I could turn this into my own little Paris. I asked the landlord across the street if I could use his patio, and I put up a tent.

This made the alley start thriving again. People saw what was happening and came down the alley to see what was happening.
 

Did you know why all of our alleys are named after generals?

After the Mexican War, only three families were allowed to have property: the Riverside Family, the San Bernardino Family, and the Don Benito Family.

Don Benito fell in love with Pasadena, and the generals did, too. They named the alleys after themselves because they all took a corner slot of the land.
 

Where are you originally from?

My family is originally from Armenia. My father was a MIG pilot, and my mother was an engineer.

Because my father was born in Jerusalem, we were considered Russian Jews, so they were willing to “throw” us out. They took everything from us. We ended up in Lebanon in 1978, in the middle of the war, seeing bombs dropped.

Then, we ended up in Pasadena in 1979, in an all-black neighborhood. It was hard.

There was such a beauty about Pasadena. You’d fight with everyone, and then we would be best friends the next day.
 

Have you spent all of your life here since age 7?

I lived in Utah for five years. After I graduated, my parents saw that I was a “tough guy” and sent me to live with my uncles in Utah.

One uncle taught me how to talk to girls, while the other taught me how to dress.

One of the best things about Utah is that it is so filled with kindness. It opened my eyes. There was togetherness and no time for hate, and I brought that back to Pasadena.

Because of Utah, I can blend in with anyone now.
 

Old Pasadena has changed a lot, hasn’t it?

It has really changed. It used to be a bad part of town where if the cops saw you drive by twice, you’d get pulled over for cruising.

Now, it’s a much better place and something people look forward to going to.
 

There has been a clear change in that alley compared to it before the pandemic.

There has been a lot of that due to the liquor license for outdoor dining. If they take that away, it’s going to hurt business.

We want to be able to shut the alley down after a certain time so that we can keep things going.
 

Do you think the government handled the pandemic well?

Hahaha. You guys want the real Teddy?

Everything is screwed up. The number one thing the government does is lie.

They wanted to shut everything down for two weeks. No problem. But after two weeks, we didn’t hear anything.

Because of this, I had to lay off twenty employees. Then a month later, they told us we could get PPP loans. It’s backward.

Then, because of this, I had to sign up with food delivery services like GrubHub and set everything up on my own.

I was fortunate because my landlord was so great.
 

Has Pasadena been supportive?

We have one of the best cities and the support. Victor Gordo really helped us.
 

How is your restaurant different today because of COVID?

The significant changes have been getting sanitizing equipment and PPE. It was hard to find any of this during the pandemic; once you could find it, the prices doubled.

I had to get an entirely new staff. A lot of our dining is now outdoors, and thankfully, we have seen an increase in our business since regulations have been relaxed.
 

Where is Edwin Mills located?

22 Mills Place. You can visit us at edwinmills.com and follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
 

Picture of Teddy Bedjakian

Teddy Bedjakian

The Huntington Library. It’s a great place to find your zen.

Walking around Old Pasadena.