Edwin Mills by Equator honors Pasadena’s storied past, and serves up some mean cocktails at the same time.
By Mario Boucher Images by Paul Mowry
Teddy Bedjakian takes pride in paying homage to Pasadena’s past. Bedjakian owns Edwin Mills by Equator, at 22 Mills Place in Old Pasadena. Featuring period street lamps and original brick construction, the Mills alleyway is one of Pasadena’s historic pathways. That European and Chinese vibe from the past serves as a fitting entry.
“I love history and I’m happy to be part of Old Pasadena, living here and operating a business here,” says Bedjakian, who prefers to be called simply Teddy B. He decided to honor and preserve the building’s history through the décor, wall paneling, rustic brick facade and the exposed wooden ceiling beams.
Guests are greeted by a big statue of Buddha, which pays homage to the restaurant’s past. The red-brick structure began as the China Palace in 1894 when Chinese immigrants settled in the area. The building was also used as a stable, which explains why the floor tilts towards the front entrance, a produce store, laundry and garage over its 124-year history. It was locked up in the 1980s and used for storage.
Tunnels underneath the building begin at the print shop behind the restaurant to the Cheesecake Factory and underneath Colorado Boulevard before turning north to a parking structure. The tunnels were used as an opium den during Prohibition.
The building reopened to the public as the Equator Coffee House in 1992 and Bedjakian bought it four years later. He first ran a hookah bar and then a coffee shop before finally settling on today’s restaurant and bar. He sold a nightclub in Maywood so he could stay on top of his Pasadena business.
There have been plenty of obstacles along the way. Despite changing trends and constant competition, Teddy has remained in Pasadena because of his love for the city. He’s had to deal with a corporate takeover of much of Old Town Pasadena which has driven out many small businesses, especially mom-and-pop businesses.
“It’s getting harder and harder to be a business owner these days,” says Bedjakian, who believes so strongly in his business that he defends it against his harshest (and often very young) critics, who don’t understand how difficult it is to run a business these days.
He appeared on “Say It to My Face” on the FYI network, which offers restaurant owners a chance to face their social media critics.
“There is so much pressure because of sales tax, rent and the minimum wage increase,” elaborates Bedjakian. “So you have to calculate all your business expenses to make things work.”
The recent development in the area has sparked interest from new area residents in what Edwin Mills by Equator has to offer. “With the new housing in the neighborhood, we’re getting more people coming in,” says Bedjakian. “There have been so many changes and I try to change with the times.”
Teddy has charm to spare and a generous nature. He has hosted many fundraisers to benefit the city, is actively involved in local service groups such as the Lions Club and helps non-profit organizations because he cares about the people and loves being part of the solution in Pasadena. “I’m part of the community and I like being involved.”
Teddy says he went through hell just to survive and gain the necessary experience over the years “so I’m grateful and blessed with a good family, with my friends, with my staff and the people I meet here and around town.”
When Bedjakian rebranded his business, people asked if his name was Edwin Mills. The name was actually inspired by the intersection: Edwin Alley and Mills Place (named after two late 19th Century Pasadena entrepreneurs).
“The key to success is to have a friendly staff that wants to be here and offer the best service,” says Bedjakian. “Here, we create a positive atmosphere so people can come relax and have a good time. People who come to Edwin Mills by Equator want special attention and feel like it’s their little place to hang out.”
You can enjoy happy hour Monday through Thursday beginning at 4 p.m. “I’m proud to offer a fun and relaxing time for happy hour and it’s the best happy hour in town,” he says. “I also decided to focus on live entertainment, especially jazz and blues.”
The restaurant can be rented for special events such as birthdays and will hold up to 60 people sitting and 120 people standing. Teddy provides two bartenders, two servers, one door attendant and a live DJ as part of the package. “It’s the ambiance, the service and the food,” he says, “and you really need all three to be successful.”
Edwin Place by Equator holds private events the last Tuesday of every month. It offers a sophisticated mix of local art, relaxing ambiance, quality cocktails, and a varied menu of Asian and American foods. Thursdays and Fridays (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), Teddy offers a $9 lunch special that includes burgers, basil mignon, fish tacos, island rice, oodles of noodles and sweet chicken.
For dinner, diners are faced with plenty of delicious choices—everything from chicken piccata and shepherd’s pie to salmon steaks and potato wrapped snapper. The lunch menu is also available, as are a wide variety of burgers. There’s also plenty of greens, of course, and c’mon, he has mac ‘n cheese!
“I’m constantly bringing new things to the menu,” says Bedjakian, who has adopted the motto “Old Pasadena restaurant. New American food.” He is currently working on a new brunch menu for the weekend to complement his many current enticing choices. Edwin Mills by Equator offers a great mix of breakfast favorites and innovative offerings such as baked egg custard tart and tempura shrimp. The brunch menu has dim sum from the same Pacific Culinary Group that serves the Langham and Ritz Carlton.
Teddy’s high standards also extend to his service. “I love talking to people and learning about people,” he notes. “That’s interesting to me.”
While owners often mingle with briefly with their guests, it’s unusual for them to offer the kind of special attention Teddy provides. “They are surprised when I take the time to really interact with them.” Clearly, providing a welcoming and cozy atmosphere is paramount to Teddy and his staff and, at Edwin Mills by Equator, you’ll have a historically great time, and maybe even enjoy a little actual history at the same time.