By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — If you happen to visit the Wellington Farmers Market on Washington Boulevard on a Sunday, you will encounter entrepreneurs Javonne Sanders and her partner Matthew N. Crawford who will be briskly serving up tasty salads at their booth Toss It Up.
Sanders was driving a bus for the city of Gardena Transit Authority several years ago when she suddenly possessed a burning desire to start her own business.
“One day I turned on KJLH radio and I was shocked to hear a woman state that the Black community possessed the highest rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity,” she said.
“After she spoke, they played rapper Tupac Shakur’s song ‘Toss It Up’ on the radio. I thought the song was really catchy.”
Sanders started attending seminars to learn more about how to operate a business.
“One of the first questions the instructors ask you is, ‘What is it that you like?’
“I knew I liked salads,” Sanders recalled. “I knew that healthy eating was lacking in the Black community and finding a good salad was hard to find in certain parts of South Los Angeles, which was officially considered a food desert and a fast food haven.
“It finally dawned on me that I should start a salad company.”
Sanders asked several people in the community if starting a salad business was a good idea. She was told that making salads would never work.
“People in South LA don’t eat salads,” were the words she heard over and over again. But Sanders refused to allow the negative comments to dim her dream.
Sanders founded the company and named it Toss It Up after Shakur’s song. Sanders, who had past experience in the fast-food industry, experimented creating a variety of salads using fresh organic produce in her kitchen in 2016.
Those creations included a Cobb Salad that contains spring mix, cherry tomatoes, shredded cheese, chopped bacon, chicken and sliced eggs; a Southwest Salad containing spring mix, black beans, cherry tomatoes, corn, shredded cheese and sprinkles of green onion and cilantro; and a barbecue chickpea salad made with spring mix and topped with chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, corn, bell pepper mix, and a sprinkle of carrots and red onions.
She also makes a crunchy wonton salad made with spring mix and topped with carrots, red cabbage, almonds, green onions, mandarin oranges, wonton strips, and ginger sesame vinaigrette; the Mediterranean Caesar salad, with a blend of Mediterranean flavors made with spring mix and cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions, banana peppers and topped with Parmesan cheese; and the vegetarian King Chef salad, which is made with a spring mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded cheese, shredded carrots and sliced egg.
Sanders also offers Greek and Caesar salads that she sells for $5 that can be ordered online. The business also offers fruit infused ice teas.
“I told my coworkers that I made salads and one of them said, ‘Why don’t you bring your salads to work?’” My coworker asked me how much I was selling the salads for and I said $7.”
Word quickly spread about Sanders’ tasty salads. Ten coworkers immediately paid $7 each to place orders.
“I used that money to make more salads,” Sanders said. “I would leave the salads in the refrigerator and my colleagues would pay me for the salads whenever they saw me. I even started selling salads on the bus.”
She said some of those people complained that they were tired of eating fast and processed food. I would ask them, ‘What would you like me to put on your salad?’ They all said they loved my salads.”
To accrue more capital for her business, Sanders started driving for Uber and Lyft in her spare time.
“I would use the extra money I made to pay for one business license after another and I just kept going. One friend said that I should put a post about my salads on Facebook and Instagram and orders started pouring in.”
As business continued to grow, Sanders was able to quit driving a bus in April 2020 to operate her fledgling business full time, which required her to work five to six days a week.
“One of the people who consistently showed up to purchase a salad from me was a loyal customer named Matthew Crawford,” Sanders said. “He kept asking me if I needed help and I kept turning him down.”
But Sanders finally realized that extra help was needed.
“I said, if Crawford asks me one more time if I need help, I’m going to say ‘yes,’” she said.
Crawford said he could see that Sanders could use an extra hand.
“I said if she turns me down to help her one more time, I won’t ever ask her again,” he said. “Luckily, I asked Sanders for a final time.”
Sanders gladly accepted the extra help and eventually made Crawford the chief operations officer of her company.
Crawford, a marketing expert, utilized social media to get the word out about Toss It Up and contacted Facebook groups to include Toss It Up when they had their own events. His strategy was effective enough to grow the business’ following to over 2,000 on Facebook and over 2,500 on Instagram.
“We try to make the salads into a full meal,” said Crawford, who also developed and created Toss It Up’s website. “We do not skimp on quality at Toss It Up because we want to make healthy eating affordable. We have $5 salads as well as gourmet salads at an affordable price. We also locally source our ingredients,” he said, adding that customers can order their salads online.
As Sanders and Crawford worked closely together, both were surprised when love blossomed. They are making plans to marry in the near future.
As their business continues to grow, the two entrepreneurs regularly travel to different farmer’s markets on the weekends.
“Every first Saturday of the month, we set up at the Compton Farmer’s Market hosted by the Neighborhood Housing Services of Los Angeles County,” said Crawford. “Every third Saturday, we participate in the Compton Black Exchange, an all-Black pop up event hosted by the Compton Grocer’s Outlet.
“Every Sunday, we set up at Salad Bowl Sunday at the Wellington Farmer’s Market. The last Saturday of every month, we participate in Prosperity Market, the first Black-owned mobile farmer’s market which travels to different locations across L. A. County and beyond.”
The two also established the Green Goodness Meal plans on their website, where every month a customer can subscribe and donate a hot meal to someone experiencing homelessness.
“Our salads are local, affordable, and have become an oasis in our urban community that’s filled with liquor and stores that harm and inflict life-threatening diseases,” Sanders said. “We want everyone to open up their palates to salad.”
“Toss It Up hopes to be the next national and regional solution for healthy eating right here in South Los Angeles,” Crawford added. “We are determined in our quest to make South Los Angeles healthy again.”
Salad Bowl Sunday takes place every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wellington Farmers Market located at 4394 W. Washington Blvd.
To contact Toss It Up, visit their website at www.tossitupinc.com or call (800) 483-5510.