How I Got Here: Taline Mazlemian

Current position: Taline Mazlemian, 42, is the owner of Paragon Dry Cleaners and Laundry in Hollywood, California.

The company: Paragon Cleaners is three blocks south of the geographically iconic Sunset Boulevard and the world-renowned Hollywood Walk of Fame. A staple of the community over a span of five decades, Paragon Cleaners is a family-run business that caters to the garment care needs of both large companies and individual customers. When Mazlemian’s family bought the business in 1973, it was called Riverside Cleaners. They changed the name to Paragon Cleaners, and a new family business was born.

Changing gears: Ten years after launching Paragon Cleaners, The Mazlemian Family discovered a niche that would become their bread and butter. “We started doing costumes by working on The Phantom of the Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion,” said Mazlemian. “For over three decades now, our specialty is doing costumes for opera and theatre, and restoring vintage costumes.” Paragon Cleaners currently has exclusive partnerships to work with Hollywood Pantages Theatre, Center Theatre Group, 3-D Theatricals, LA Opera, Netflix, and the LA Philharmonic in conjunction with the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Family matters: Mazlemian’s parents are of Armenian descent and from Bulgaria. Varty (mom), Levon (dad) and Uncle Bob (Levon’s brother) all ran Paragon Cleaners together as co-partners. Varty and Bob were involved in the day to day operations while Levon was the overseer of financial decision making.

Before Mazlemian got involved in the family business, Levon and Bob passed away within three years of each other. In 2001, Levon lost his battle with cancer, and in 2004, Bob succumbed to a heart attack while in his sleep.

Mazlemian had recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design from the prestigious ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. She was doing freelance work and also employed by a musical band from Texas when she learned that because of Bob’s passing, her mother Varty was faced with the possibility of selling Paragon Cleaners. “We owned the property as well, and I didn’t want my mom to sell,” she said. “So I quit my job, and I went in to help my mom run the business.”

Aunt Diana (surviving spouse of Uncle Bob) is currently a manager at Paragon Cleaners. Mazlemian also shares a close bond with her younger sister Sylvia, a labor and delivery nurse.

Mommy dearest: “My mom, being an Armenian girl; parents are strict,” said Mazlemian. “She was the hippie Armenian mom; she was an artist herself, a creative person.” Mazlemian said that Varty went into the dry cleaning business because “that’s what my dad wanted her to do because that was the business they bought.”

“She fought for her crazy older daughter to do all the crazy things that she could never do,” Mazlemian said. “When I was sixteen, she let me go with my cousin cross country!”

When Levon balked at his daughter attending ArtCenter to pursue what she loved, it was Varty who advocated on their daughter’s behalf. “I feel like if I put my heart into something, I can make it happen,” she said. “And the belief I have in myself I owe to my mom. She always stuck up for me. That’s why I went into the business.”

Advice received: When Mazlemian took the reins of the family business, it was not without its fair share of challenges and uphill battles. She will forever remember the blood, sweat and tears expended to keep Paragon above ground and solvent.

Even though there were some naysayers and doubters that a young twenty-six-year-old woman could make it in this business, there was one icon from the industry which gave her the fuel and inspiration to persist. It was none other than the late, great Milton Chortkoff (the legendary industry giant of Milt & Edie’s fame). “He had an assistant call me, and he took me out to lunch very early on when I took over,” recalled Mazlemian. “And he said ‘girl, you stick to your guns; you can do it, but everything is marketing.’”

A little help from friends: There have been several people over the years, especially in the beginning of her transition into the dry cleaning industry, that has been instrumental in Mazlemian’s career. She said that one of her uncle’s very best friends, Andre Guilanians, taught her everything she knows about dry cleaning. Others whom she has tremendous respect and gratitude for are Norm Korey of Wyatt-Bennett, Gene Hicks and John Morris from Sanitone. “The Korey Brothers built our plant, and the Sanitone Family helped me big time…with everything.”

Continuing education: According to Mazlemian, there are a good number of customers that don’t know what dry cleaning is. Some customers have asked Mazlemian if she can only clean the sleeves. Believing in full transparency, she has given inquisitive customers a tour of her plant so that they can fully understand the process involved with professional and effective garment care.

“They need to see why a piece of clothing changes so many hands once it comes behind my counter,” Mazlemian said. “When they understand how much work actually goes into a garment before it comes back to them, they realize this is why they pay me.”

Success principles: Her definition of success is self-satisfaction that her company is heading in the right direction. Also of vast importance to Mazlemian is making sure that she handles her business with the utmost integrity. “It’s not necessarily how much money you make or how big you are,” she said. “It’s how you run the whole show.”

Leadership style: “I tell my employees all the time — you think I’m the boss, but I’m not the boss,” Mazlemian said. “The real boss is the client; I’m just a distributor of funds.”

The disposition of her employees is one of the markers that Mazlemian uses to determine the well-being of the business. She emphatically underscores the importance of the employees that deal with her clientele. “Customer service is everything, and your counter people are everything,” Mazlemian declared! “It’s very important that my employees are happy because they are the ones that make it go round.”

Industry outlook: When asked what direction the dry cleaning industry is heading, Mazlemian said it’s no big secret. “Pick up and delivery but everybody knows it,” she deadpanned. “Going to the customer is everything right now. People are getting groceries, medicines and every product or service we can imagine delivered to their front door.”

With the push for environmentally conscious and earth-safe cleaning solutions at the forefront, Mazlemian believes that hydrocarbon and wet cleaning provide the best alternatives for navigating a very delicate line. “Cleaning people’s clothes is a very personal thing, and people want what is best for the environment. But at the end of the day, the customer wants us to do whatever it will take to get their clothes clean.”

Proudest moment: The renowned LA Opera stages classical and contemporary operas at the famed Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. So far, Mazlemian considers her company’s crowning achievement to be when LA Opera agreed to recognize Paragon Cleaners in every printed program given to its theatergoers.

Off the clock: Spending precious time with her family is what matters most to Mazlemian, and she loves going to Disneyland whenever she can fit it into her schedule.

Her extensive travel adventures have taken her across the United States and various locales throughout North America, South America, Central America, and Europe. She has yet to experience Africa and Asia.

Two places at the top of her bucket list are Fiji and the Land of the Rising Sun. “I really want to go to Japan,” Mazlemian said with enthusiasm. “I’m like insanely obsessed with Hello Kitty and anything Japanese.” She collects Japanese vinyl toys and is an aficionado of anime.

Personal: The Hollywood native has a two-year-old daughter with husband Kelvin Hernandez, who works in restaurant management. They make their home in nearby Glendale, California.

About John Leano

John Leano can be reached by e-mail: Leano@BryansCleaners.com or Twitter: @JohnLeano or www.facebook.com/johngleano