PILSEN — Angelica Varela took a risk opening her plant studio early in the pandemic. But three years in, she’s moved into a larger store and is looking to create a coffee bar inside it.
Varela opened Semillas on 18th Street in Pilsen in summer 2020, offering a variety of plants, flowers, custom arrangements and floral services.
Varela’s love of her plants kept her sane during the pandemic after she was laid off, she said. She had always wanted to run her own business, so when the opportunity came to lease a space on 18th Street, she jumped on it and knew immediately what the concept would be.
The business survived COVID-19 restrictions thanks to the support of the community and measures like curbside pickup, Varela said. About a year after opening, Varela moved the business to 1848 S. Blue Island Ave., she said.
Varela has also hosted private events, like a flower bar where people can make their own custom arrangements, as well as coffee pop-ups where people can shop with a beverage.
Now, as Varela’s about to celebrate the business’ three-year anniversary, she’s partnering with the WDNR Museum, 1130 W. Monroe St., to host her largest public pop-up.
WNDR Museum hosts an After Dark event every third Friday, giving visitors nighttime access to the space and guest pop-ups.
Varela and the Semillas team will host a “flower bar” 6:30-10:30 p.m. Friday as part of this month’s After Dark event. She’s worked as a florist with WNDR in the past, but this is her first time working an After Dark event, she said.
People will be able to make and take home their own custom arrangements from Varela’s “flower bar,” the first time she’s offering it to the public.
“I feel like it’s an intimidating thing, making an arrangement, but anyone can do it,” Varela said. “People will be like, ‘How does this look?’ And I say, ‘If it looks great to you, if you love it, that’s all that matters.'”
Tickets are on sale for $38.
Varela is also planning to launch a coffee bar within Semillas in the coming months, she said. She’s hosted coffee pop-ups in the past, but she’s imagining something larger where people can work remote with the backdrop of her greenery, she said.
Construction on the coffee expansion could start as early as July and finish before the end of the year, Varela said.
Varela said Semillas’ success and ability to expand is thanks to her years of experience in the hospitality industry and having family who supported her striking out on her own. She also said opening the store filled a gap in the area for plant lovers who typically had to go to the North Side to find what they’re looking for.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea,” she said. “And I was really scared to tell my parents about it because our family doesn’t take risks like that. But I told them, ‘I think I want to open up a plant shop.’ And my mom and dad were like, ‘We don’t see you doing anything else.'”
Semillas is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays.
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