A loyal community, VSEDC and a local sports star answered the call to help a legacy, multigenerational business in Inglewood stay open when the pandemic and economic downturn was forcing their hand to close their doors.
In 1983 Harold E. Sparks left Hamilton, Ohio and moved to Inglewood, CA to establish The Serving Spoon, a beloved soul food restaurant. Doing so, he spawned a legacy business that has since fed its way into the history of Inglewood and Greater Los Angeles.
With each shift in Los Angeles’ economy, the The Spoon, as many affectionately call it, has adapted. Regardless of who is in the Oval Office, or the rising cost of rent and goods, they have learned to adjust. And for nearly four decades, patrons have been able to enjoy the “love-at-first-bite” Harold sought to bestow upon his community.
However, The Spoon has not gone without its share of turbulent times. In 2021, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic compounded an already existing economic crisis minority communities faced across the Los Angeles region.
A legacy in need
In 2004, Harold’s daughter and son-in-law, Angela and J.C. Johnson took over ownership of the popular restaurant. They guided The Spoon with a sure hand through the Great Recession, but the pandemic was different. They found themselves unsure if they would be able to keep the doors open as they were hit by an economic crisis and pandemic at the same time.
Angela and J.C. watched their numbers drop as the economy and pandemic took its toll on their customers. Without access to services like the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, the Johnson’s could see things were headed toward financial peril.
“We were short-staffed and the staff we maintained required us to increase our wage offerings, but you can’t pass that down to the customers. Then there’s the rising price of goods. It becomes a big squeeze,” said J.C.
VSEDC awards Netflix grants in time of need
More often than not, small businesses are not provided access to financial resources made available to wealthier entities that help alleviate difficulties posed by economic downturns – resources Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation (VSEDC) can help small businesses identify.
In 2020, the world watched the mass peaceful protests following the murder of George Floyd. Inspired by the call to act, Netflix, a global leader in entertainment streaming and philanthropy, reached out to VSEDC to find a way to aid the Black community. What came to be realized was $500,000 in grants provided by Netflix to be distributed by VSEDC to Black-owned small businesses across Los Angeles County.
Once the partnership was announced, Joseph “Joe” T. Rouzan, III, President of VSEDC, alerted Angela and J.C. about the grant opportunity.
The Serving Spoon was one of 58 businesses VSEDC identified that were provided with non-repayable grants that helped stabilize the enterprises as they operated amidst economic uncertainty.
“The grants worked out for them compared to the PPP loans. They didn’t owe anyone a dime. Netflix provided the funds and our team got those checks to small businesses in need as quickly as possible,” explained Joe Rouzan.
The grants were small $5k financial boosts that served as a temporary reprieve, and as the pandemic continued with no end in sight, The Spoon soon needed to seek out capital and support in new ways.
Loss, grief and a Hail Mary
The Serving Spoon’s losses, however, weren’t limited to finances. Several members of their team were victims of COVID-19. The losses shook the stability of The Spoon, and while they grieved, Angela and J.C. had to figure out how to field enough staff. Then, the Serving Spoon, one of the longest running business establishments in Inglewood, had to close its doors for two weeks for their team’s health and safety. Angela was infected with COVID-19, followed by five more on staff.
Expenses and employees’ wages had to be covered while The Spoon was closed. Angela took to social media with a heartfelt video explaining the situation to their loyal customers. The community responded brilliantly and raised $25k of the $75k goal on a GoFundMe account. On such short notice, the odds were not in their favor. But as fate would have it, something truly special was in store for them.
Their call to action was answered by 2021 Superbowl champion and former Los Angeles Ram, Andrew Whitworth and his wife Melissa. They saw The Spoon’s plea on the news and stepped in to help them against the tides of crises with the remaining $50k.
“It was a Godsend. We weren’t expecting it. It gave us the freedom to take care of payroll,” said Angela. “We closed for two weeks, but we were able to pay the entire staff during that period.”
The Spoon has been in the middle of history making from its inception. The restaurant has hosted countless renowned entertainers and politicians over the years. Most recently, Congresswoman Maxine Waters invited Angela and J.C. Johnson as virtual guests of President Biden’s 2021 Joint Session of Congress address.
To Angela, though, the longevity of The Spoon is a proud moment of Black history. “For us it’s Black History every day. It’s Black History every month. As far as I’m concerned, every day a Black business is surviving and thriving, that is making history because there is so much against us.”
The Spoon is also the history of her family. Her father’s spirit lives on through Angela, J.C. and their children, serving a spoonful of welcome familial ambiance to anyone who steps through their doors.
Closed no more, The Serving Spoon is open every day of the week. You can find The Serving Spoon in Inglewood at 1403 Centinela Avenue.