Food and love brought them together. Now they’re all about selling plants in L.A.

Two people inside  a plant shop.
Jeff Lavia-Garcia, left, and his husband, Robert, stand inside Flower Tortillas, their plant shop in San Pedro.
(Kendra Frankle / For The Times)

“We’re both fighters who like to hustle,” says Jeff Lavia-Garcia as he smiled at his husband, Robert, on a recent summer morning inside their plant shop, Flower Tortillas, in downtown San Pedro.

The Lavia-Garcias’ boutique plant shop offers an assortment of succulents and other plants such as fiddle leaf, pathos, peperomia and calico kitten crassula sourced from local nurseries. They also sell fresh sunflowers, roses, baby’s breath and dried bundles of lavender and eucalyptus as well as novelty gifts made by other small businesses.

In our Plant PPL series, we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have suggestions for PPL to include, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.

The Lavia-Garcias’ journey into plants came via their exploration of the food service industry. Robert, 44, was working as a professional dancer when he and Jeff, 50, met online in 2011. Together they started a catering business in 2013 called Mr. J’s Kitchen. At the time, Jeff was working as a personal chef.

The couple started Flower Tortillas this past February — a nod to their catering business and a play on “flour tortillas.” (They still do catering jobs through Events by Flower Tortillas.) Expanding to a plant shop came naturally for Robert and Jeff because running Mr. J’s often involved creating floral arrangements and plant decor for events.

“It’s incredible to be able to create beautiful pieces for someone’s special moment, whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, a baby shower or a funeral,” Robert says.


Flowers for sale in a plant shop.
A variety of flowers for sale.

A variety of flowers are available at Robert and Jeff Lavia-Garcia’s plant shop. (Kendra Frankle / For The Times)

The couple moved to San Pedro in 2017 and got married in 2018. (Robert is originally from Downey and Jeff is from Long Beach.) Since opening their plant store, Robert and Jeff say the San Pedro community has welcomed them with open arms.

When it comes to their business, they pride themselves on old-school customer service. For example, Robert tries his best to remember the names of every customer who walks into the store.

“A lot of times we show up to the store in the morning, and there are plants or vases that our neighborhood has left us,” Robert says. “It’s truly incredible.”

Plants on display inside Flower Tortillas.
Inside of Robert and Jeff Lavia-Garcia’s plant shop Flower Tortillas in San Pedro.
(Kendra Frankle / For The Times)


Looking around their shop with contentment, Jeff and Robert gazed at the string of bananas (Senecio radicans), string of dolphins (Senecio peregrinus), and string of hearts (Ceropegia woodii) plants draping from the high ceiling.

Robert pointed to the large, floral mural covering the wall of the entrance before saying that Monica Lopez, his sister-in-law, hand-painted it. Cherry and Hawaiian jalapeño jarred jellies from Rose City Pepperheads, candied bacon and Thai lime spices from Spiceology and fig balsamic vinegar from O Olive Oil & Vinegar accompanied the plants. Soaps and essential oil sprays handmade by Robert and Jeff and dish towels inscribed with sassy quotes were on display.

“It feels pretty damn good,” Jeff says about the intriguing space they’ve created.

The outdoor patio at Flower Tortillas.
(Kendra Frankle / For The Times)

Flower Tortillas soaps on a tray.
Flower Tortillas soaps are part of the many gift offerings available at the plant shop.
(Kendra Frankle / For The Times)

At the back of the store, there’s a lush outdoor garden. Herbs, succulents and many vibrant indigenous plants are in the space together. Jeff says typically on Friday nights, they host craft-making events in the garden including terrarium- and wreath-building, adding that they plan to start having live music and community dinners there soon. Jeff runs the Flower Tortillas Instagram account, which he says is the best place to stay up-to-date with their events.

Reflecting on his plant journey, Robert says that being surrounded by strong, green-thumbed women inspired his interest in plants. His maternal grandmother was gifted with plant caregiving, and his mother was an “incredible grower” with an expert green thumb. He remembers being responsible for dusting the leaves of all her plants as a child. She would know instantly if he missed a single leaf. “It’s like she can put a fake plant into a pot, and all of the sudden a real plant pops out of it!” Robert says of his mother’s gift for plant care.

The first plant Robert bought himself was a prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura). The prayer plant moves its leaves up at night and lowers them during the day, which is believed to maximize light absorption by following the sun’s movement. At night, with its leaves raised up, the plant looks like it is in prayer. The leaves also have a distinct pattern on them that Robert says look like the mark of angel kisses.

Robert’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico more than 50 years ago, before he was born. Until they retired, his mother worked at a packing company for a grocery store while his father worked in the steel industry. He says they instilled a strong work ethic in him. “That babe is a fighter. She is a force,” Robert says of his mother.

Two people standing outside.
Robert, left, and Jeff Lavia-Garcia stand on the patio of their plant shop.
(Kendra Frankle / For The Times)


Robert says he’s the first entrepreneur in his immediate family as is Jeff in his. (Jeff’s father worked at Boeing before he retired, and his mother worked at the former Long Beach Memorial Hospital.)

Running their business has been incredibly rewarding for the couple. Much like how the prayer plant’s movements are fueled by the sun, Robert and Jeff say the light of their San Pedro community pumps life into their store and they are excited to move and grow with the pulse of the neighborhood. They want to continue to spread joy through plants.

“The hustle for me is proving that I can do this,” Jeff says. “That we can do this. That we can live life on our terms and not be confined to what we were trained to be.”