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Hidden Gems: Meet Dustin Bulaon of Leaf and Spine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dustin Bulaon.

Hi Dustin, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Prior to starting a plant business, I worked in a law firm for over 10 years. While working full-time, I also attended law school and earned my JD (Juris doctor degree). Shortly after graduating, I started to question whether or not I could see myself working a desk job for the rest of my life. I felt like I was missing out on the outside world being stuck in an office all day. After much consideration, I decided to leave the law firm. I took 2 years off to reflect on life and my future, all whilst traveling and spending time focusing on my hobbies to keep me busy.

During this time off my partner and I also started to decorate our house, which included some gardening and jazzing up our interior with plants as well. We continuously visited every nursery in LA to find something unique to add to our space. More often than not, we left those nurseries empty-handed as we continued to see the same plants over and over. As a result, we expanded our search further and further from home and discovered nurseries that had more unique offerings. Our addiction to rare plants began and it went full throttle from there, growing our collection quite rapidly.

It didn’t take long before our home in Highland Park was filled with plants. To help make some space for more plants, we started to host some pop-ups on York Blvd. (just blocks away from where our store is now located) and sold some of our duplicate plants. We didn’t realize how much traction we would gain selling uncommon potted plants on a sidewalk. To our surprise, about half of our inventory sold by the time we were even able to finish setting up during our first sale. We continued to show up and plants continued to sell. A few months later, we signed a lease and Leaf and Spine was born with one goal in mind- to offer the community unique plants that they would not readily find in other nurseries.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Thankfully it has been a fairly smooth road, but we did face a few hiccups along the way. The pandemic threw quite a few curve balls at us. The shutdown mandated our business to close for a few months just one week after our feature in the LA Times. Once we were allowed to reopen, we had to adjust our business model to operate via curbside pick-up and we began to host weekly/bi-weekly sales where customers would claim plants and handmade pottery posted on our Instagram stories. We also faced some issues with obtaining enough inventory when the demand for indoor plants increased dramatically (due to everyone being home) but there was a major shortage of supply of plants and pottery.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
We are a locally owned POC plant store that specializes in uncommon/rare plants. Our goal is to provide our community with different plants than what a typical plant shop would offer. We want to introduce our customers to plants they’ve never seen or heard of but are very intrigued by. We pride ourselves with the depth of knowledge we are able to provide our customers with because we, ourselves, have grown many of the plants we offer in our personal collection. Despite being a small brick-and-mortar, our customers are often amazed by the selection of plants we offer.

Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
I’ve learned that just like plants adapt to environmental factors to survive, we must also adapt in order to survive. We had to adapt as a result to the many changes of the stay-at-home orders and how we were able to conduct business.

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