We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica Cruz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica, as a parent, what do you feel is the most meaningful thing you’ve done for them?
As a woman, specifically a woman of color, taking on a career in vegan events head on that is mostly dominated by men and working every single day to ensure that the generational wealth that I am building for my children is secure is one of the most important things I could do for them and their future. Societal norms still dictate that women have a lesser role outside of the home with more emphasis on raising children and being at home full time with men being the sole breadwinners in a family. While these numbers are beginning to even out, there is still a stigma attached to women being bosses in the event space. I have heard such things from event officials as “where’s the man?” referring to my male partner who works for me. It has been an eye opener to watch this transpire before my very eyes. I believe that as a parent of two young boys, it is my duty to ensure that they understand that women’s roles are anywhere they want to be. Be that for their partners, friends, or co-workers. I believe that in watching their mother work hard every day to achieve her dreams, they will continue to understand that they can also follow their dreams and work hard for what they believe in. This one act of following my passion toward a career that is aligned with my drive and my values continues to be a source of great learning in a myriad of ways for my children and I will continue to count my blessings for every lesson that they learn through watching their momma follow her dreams.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Organizing events was very new to me. When I decided to embark upon this journey, I was working with a limited budget and a risky event mode. It occurred to me that I would have to do a majority of the groundwork on my own in order to make this event happen. I taught myself every single thing I could from making a website to graphic design to writing a press release to social media to map design to marketing to vendor relations to city permits and so much more. I think what sets me apart is that I didn’t have a team behind me or millions of dollars backing me to make this a success. I mostly went off of faith and grit. Now that Vegan Street Fair is the largest vegan event in the world at 60,000 attendees, 200 vendors, and 1 mile worth of closed streets in the heart of North Hollywood, CA, I am most proud of the fact that we did that from a grassroots approach and never compromised on our values in the process. At the time of the first Vegan Street Fair in 2015, I had a 2 year old and was 3 months pregnant running around making sure that every part of the event was up to standards. There were many lessons along the way and it was not easy at all. Some of the challenges we faced over the past 6 years have ranged from initially implementing food tickets instead of using cash or credit which we did away with, dealing with inclement weather such as rain, hail, and raining ash from fires, and maneuvering from a one day to a two day event. Scaling your business to address these challenges is the key to any successful business and I am grateful that throughout the years, we have been able to do just that. A good friend of mine once told me you are always either winning or you’re learning, you never lose. That has stuck with me and it helps push me through when I have a moment of sheer overwhelming anxiety from the pressure or the mounting stress. I remind myself that I can do anything I set my mind to, no matter how challenging it can be, even post pandemic. Our event will live on past the pandemic because my team built it from its foundation to be as strong as we are.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Los Angeles is one of the vegan meccas of the world, hands down and its also got some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll find on the west coast. I’d tell my friend to arrive on a Saturday night and be prepared for a feast of epic proportions at Vegan Exchange on Sunday afternoon where 35+ vegan and vegan friendly vendors come together to serve everything from vegan sushi, burgers, donuts, fried “chicken”, matcha, soul food, mac and cheese and everything in between. Then to fill up their re-usable bags with vegan candles, coconut bowls, tee shirts, hair products, and bottled coffee to go. Afterwards, we’d go to Venice beach to walk off our delicious feast and enjoy the sights of the street performers and creatives that populate the busy destination. Monday calls for an early morning hike at Runyon to see the Los Angeles skyline, a shower, and a visit to Grand Central Market where we will find Ramen Hood and PBJ.LA, both vegan powerhouses in a food court style mall. That night, a trip to a comedy show is in order. Tuesday is all about Disney. I’d take them to Disney for the day and be sure to get the vegan Dole Whip and Gumbo while there. On our way out, we go to Kensho for some of the best sushi in all of southern California. Wednesday, we’re heading to Santa Monica pier for the sights, to walk the boardwalk and ride some rides. That view is unreal. By lunch time, we make our way to Double Zero for some of the best darn vegan pizza you’ll have. Then we’d drive up PCH and take in the views up the coast. We’ll stop at a winery that overlooks the ocean and enjoy a few drinks (with a designated driver of course). Tonight seems like a good night to head back down to Manhattan Beach to explore the night life scene so that’s what we would do. Thursday, we’d hit an escape room with friends, then go to Pura Vita for lunch because vegan Italian is always a win. We’d then make our way to Happy Ice for some Philadelphia water ice from the pros. That night, we’re hitting up a salsa club. Friday we visit the Getty museum for the afternoon then hit Shojin in Culver City for early dinner. We’d likely make our way to Magpie’s for some of their vegan offerings which are TO DIE FOR! And then… Saturday… its back home they go, hopefully with a lot of wonderful memories of LA and its incredible vegan scene.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I can never speak about Vegan Street Fair without giving credit to my good friend Demetrius Bagley who helped produce the film Vegucated. In the early days of ideation for this event, Demetrius was instrumental in helping me to flesh out an idea for a vegan event that was new, fresh, hip, and one-of-a-kind. He would not allow me to do anything basic or simple. It had to be epic. Through countless conversations, Demetrius helped guide me every step of the way towards a free, low cost vegan event that celebrated the vegan movement in a way that was accessible to all, be it by class, ability, race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, vegan, non vegan, or body type- everyone is welcome. Without Demetrius’ endless support and encouragement, Vegan Street Fair would not exist. I tip to my hat to him daily for his unconditional faith in me as an event organizer which in turn gave the world Vegan Street Fair.
Joel Barragan Foster Wilson Ashley Sprankles Sarah Singer Steven Dewall