2017 LA84 Summit Recap – From Skateboarding to Juice Bars: Shifting Culture in South LA
By Nolan Ortiz
Thomas James, Co-founder, Tropics
Daniel Desure, Founder, Commonwealth Projects
Interviewer: Sam Polk, Co-Founder & CEO, Everytable
Daniel Desure and Thomas James are partners who founded and co-own Tropics, a pop-up juice bar in South LA. However, more importantly, these two are good friends who are working to provide access to healthy options for everyone.
Daniel and Thomas met unexpectedly five years ago at a company barbecue. The problem: only one of them worked for the company putting on the barbecue. Desure noticed a group of young adults had snuck in to the barbecue expecting to go unnoticed, but approached them to chat and offer them food. It was through this first encounter that James and his friends made a strong impression on Daniel. As they hung out that day, Desure learned that James was a vegetarian and very health-conscious, as was his circle of young friends his age. He also learned that James was passionate about skateboarding and loved spending as much time as he could at his local skatepark in Baldwin Hills. “The skate park was another home for us,” explained Thomas.
The fact that a young, African-American kid from South LA was a health-conscious vegetarian who loved skateboarding more than anything else surprised Desure. In addition to being health-conscious, skateboarding proved to be an activity that has provided a physical safe haven for James. “The physical aspect of carrying a skateboard is really interesting,” Desure said. “Thomas was telling me that cops will just drive by if he is carrying a skateboard, but if he’s not, they’ll stop and ask him where he is from and if he is [involved in gangs].”
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The following week after first meeting, Desure invited James and his friends to his house for a barbecue. The rest is history. This began a friendship that would lead to the exploration of various types of food, and exposed both men to each other’s culture and background to develop a relationship over the past five years.
“I’ve always been interested in food and exploring different cultures,” Desure said. James had always encountered difficulties finding vegetarian food in his community, and the two began exploring ideas and concepts related to food. From there, Tropics Juice Bar was born. For Desure, “juice, healthy living and healthy ideas should be accessible to everyone.”
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The juice bar idea became a reality after successfully raising $60,000 Kickstarter campaign. For Desure and James, the juice bar was more than just a business venture. “For me, this is a movement,” James said. “The movement never stops, and I’m going to keep pushing for healthy food.”
Check out Tropics on Instagram