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Cesar Duran is prohibited from starting any further business.
At least, his siblings joke. Cesar loves the rush of starting a company from scratch — the fresh ideas, the crazy hours, the hard work that goes into creating something lasting. And, of course, the fun that comes with bringing his siblings, Carla and Juan, along for the ride.
The latest Duran effort is an eccentric plant shop in downtown Fullerton, where they whittled an old dance studio into a bright community hub. Semilla opened its doors in March 2021.
As the trio sit on navy couches in the store’s “Calathea Lounge,” their resemblance is undeniable — curly hair frames their smiling faces, glasses sit on their noses and their laughter rings like a front doorbell.
“At first, I was like, ‘You’re crazy. Like, we can’t do this,'” Carla says, leaving Pothos N’Joy dangling above her. “But it’s like, the three of us together. We each bring something different to the table. And we’ve become very close over it, and I love that it’s helped our family grow and develop.
While Carla led the business side, Cesar and Juan muscled through construction, including hand-crafted wooden tables and shelves. This is how the three work, rounding off each other to form a powerful team. Cesar is an innovator, spreading ideas and defying boundaries. Juan is a problem-solver who thinks outside the box, while his siblings are stumped. Carla keeps them both in check, adding a voice of reason to her brothers’ opposition.
“I’m very practical,” Carla says. “I try to keep things more—”
Cesar interjects, “She makes lists. She makes lists about making lists.”
Juan jumps up.
“Because I do,” Carla says, and they all laugh. (His other job is working for a housing authority in LA)
Music blares through store speakers around a record player working Al Green’s “Greatest Hits” peeking out from the bottom cabinet. Without looking at the back of the register, it’s easy to tell which Duran is working with the music. Carla likes soul and old hip-hop, while Cesar likes funk and mambo. Juan will do anything for a bad bunny.
Stronger than their opinion on music is their opinion on plants. Cesar cries about the purple waffle as Juan and Carla start laughing.
Cesare smiles and eyes the side of them. “A plant that no one else likes here, I think,” he says. “I like it. It’s very good.”
“The best part is that Cesar bought 20 of them,” Juan said of the cool, purple perennial. “We never buy a stock of 20 plants ever. We usually buy 10 or 15, but for some reason Cesar liked this plant so much that he decided to buy 20 of them, and now there are 20 purple waffles in the whole store.”
Aside from Cesar’s fascination with purple waffles, Carla loves cactus—a passion that grew out of a family trip to Baja. Juan shows off his leg inked with a mini Monstera.
While plants are the stars of Semilla, there’s more to see than greenery in the store. Duran family mementos are scattered everywhere, from a sewing machine gifted by their neighbor to their mother’s homemade candles.
A potted Dieffenbachia sits in a chipped Craftsman toolbox, a nod to Durance’s love for cars. With a mechanic as a father, they all picked up the habit of restoring old vehicles. A look in the back of the store might mean a glimpse of Juan’s ’63 Dodge Dart convertible or Cesar’s 1970 Mercedes-Benz. Then there’s the conveniently purchased – and allegedly ugly – vintage lowrider limo that they often use for rides at Home Depot.
In the Calathea Lounge, an Oklahoma antique shop, potted plants surround a vintage camera from La American Picker. Behind it is the childhood typewriter that the Durans learned to type on, a tribute to their uncle’s typewriter repair business.
“Sometimes we put paper and write each other like dumb little messages, because it looks cool. You know? Like…” Juan starts laughing. “Like a fake ransom note.” His brothers lose.
Above the register is a framed, faded map of Sinaloa, Mexico, where the much larger Duran family still lives. Cesar, Carla and Juan’s parents moved to Southern California before they were born, but the family travels frequently to visit. The brothers grew up in their Fullerton home, putting down roots in the community long before their business.
Their home should be the first indicator of their vegetative future. “Mini TJ” is reminiscent of Sinaloa to create a backyard rainforest full of fruit trees and sweet-smelling lavender bushes. Socorro Duran warns her children to take care of her plants while she’s away, and Mother’s Day brunch is forgotten in favor of a trip to the plant nursery. Once, during an eclipse, she convinced them to move a 10-foot avocado tree to the other side of the yard because it looked sad, Cesar says.
“I swear I dug a lot of holes for trees as a kid.” He smiles. “My mom would be like, ‘We’re going to put an avocado tree in the backyard, do you want to dig a hole?’ And you’re like a 10-year-old, ‘Okay, I’ll help,’ and then you realize it’s hard work. Like I just got screwed.”
On Monday, Socorro Semilla comes to the water and sings on the leaves. The shop is small, its heart beating with a staff of six: the Duran siblings, Socorro, Cesar’s girlfriend, Ana, and Juan’s girlfriend, Vivian, who put their heads together to open the shop.
“They’re clowns, and they’re barbarians,” Carla says of her brothers and the pranksters, “Juan’s girlfriend works here – he takes her out at least three times a day.”
Juan shakes. “Before my first cup of coffee, I have to fire him.”
“He has no right to fire,” Carla says.
The tight-knit family creates a vibrant aura in the store, hosting unique events for the community. During “Pot and Sip,” aspiring plant parents build their own terrariums while drinking alcohol. Other days, the Durans wear white coats and write prescriptions on notepads for “Plant ER,” where people bring their sick plants for check-ups.
Perhaps the greatest symbol of community? A pool table behind the store. Customers often play — Durance recently held a pool tournament, where challengers battled it out for a 10-inch Monstera.
By the end of summer, a second store will take root in South Beach, Florida, just two blocks from the beach. The brothers would take turns flying there to operate the new venture. Eventually, they will hire and train Florida locals to run it full time. After all, there is a family rule that the Durans adhere to: no one is allowed to go more than 50 miles away.
“We’re definitely staying here in Fullerton,” Cesar emphasized. “We love it here. This is our home; this will always be our flagship store, even if we open like 10 locations, right? It’s like our baby.”
When the Durans decided on a name for the store, they knew two things. They wanted a Spanish word, and they wanted it to mean something to them. After the thoughts flowed, they became static seed – Spanish word for “seed”.
Carla remembers the Spanish saying, “Seeds today, flowers tomorrow“which translates to “seeds today, flowers tomorrow”. Carla says this is Semilla’s goal: to create a beautiful future for everyone. Cesar’s vision of a business that his whole family can be involved in extends beyond DNA.
“We felt like the concept of Semilla was really cool,” Cesar says. “It’s like we’re planting our seeds in the community that will grow, and help the community grow as well.”