By Shirley Hawkins
If you visit the Wellington Farmers Market on Washington Blvd. on a Sunday in Los Angeles. In that case, you will encounter entrepreneurs Javonne Sanders and her partner Matthew N. Crawford briskly serving 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 recalled.
“After she spoke, the station played rapper Tupac Shakur’s song ‘Toss It Up’ on the radio. I remember the song because I thought it was catchy.”
Sanders started attending business seminars to learn more about business operations. “One of the first questions the instructors will 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,” she recalled. “It finally dawned on me that I should start a salad-making company.”
Curious about how her idea would be received, Sanders asked several people in the community if starting a salad business was a good idea. Repeatedly, she was told that making salads would never work. “People in South LA don’t eat salads,” were the words she heard often. But Sanders refused to allow the negative comments to dim her dream.
Sanders went ahead and founded the company named ‘Toss It Up’ after Shakur’s song. Sanders, who had experience in the fast-food industry, experimented with creating a variety of salads using fresh organic produce in her kitchen in 2016.
Sanders’ creations included such salads as a Cobb Salad with 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;
A BBQ Chickpea salad made with spring mix and topped with BBQ Chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, corn, bell pepper mix, and a sprinkle of carrots and red onions;
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, 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 is made with a spring mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded cheese, shredded carrots, and sliced egg.
Sanders also offers the Greek and Caesar salads she sells for five dollars 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 seven dollars.”
Word quickly spread at her job about Sanders’ tasty salads. Ten coworkers immediately paid seven dollars each to place orders.
“I used that money to make more salads,” Sanders recalled. “I would leave the salads in the refrigerator, and my colleagues would pay for them whenever they saw me,” she said. “I even started selling salads on the bus,” she chuckled. “Some passengers 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?’
Sanders’ salads were a hit. “They all said they loved my salads.”
To acquire 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 resign from the bus company in April of 2020 to operate her fledgling business full time, which required her to work 5 to 6 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 recalled. “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 recalled.
Crawford 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 recalls. “Luckily, I asked Sanders for a final time,” Crawford chuckled.
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 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 five-dollar salads as well as gourmet salads at an affordable price. We also locally source our ingredients,” he said, who added that customers could order the salads online.
As the two worked closely together, both were surprised when love blossomed. The duo is making plans to marry soon.
As their business grows, 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, a monthly subscription service where a customer can donate a hot meal to someone experiencing homelessness every month.
“Our salads are local, affordable, and have become an oasis in our urban community filled with liquor and stores that harm and inflict life-threatening diseases. We want everyone to open their palates to salad,” said Sanders.
“Toss it Up hopes to be the next national and regional solution for healthy eating right here in South Los Angeles,” added Crawford. “We are determined 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 at 4394 W. Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles.
To contact Toss It Up, visit their website at www.tossitupinc.com or call 1-800-483-5510