From sea moss to seeded fruit, he sells everything outdoors on Philadelphia’s bustling Cobbs Creek boardwalk

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To encounter Abdul Jabar, owner of Soul Glo Healthy Lifestyle, a fresh produce business run by a food truck and van on Cobbs Creek Parkway.

• Commercial currency: “If you miss a few bucks or have never tasted a fruit I have before, you’ll get a sample for free.”

• Motivation for Monday: “The upside is the smiles when people see me, the kids eating watermelon, and the old person telling me my okra and collard greens remind her of when she was a kid in the South.”

Two types of people visit Abdul Jabar’s produce business on the Cobbs Creek Parkway side – the loyal regulars who swear by its seeded fruit and those who have driven it a hundred times and finally decided to Stop.

West Philly’s Karen Williams fell into the latter category when she finally decided to call it quits last week. She heard that Jabar had black seeded watermelons, which she can’t find at the grocery store. Jabar cut him a slice to taste, then cut himself a slice too, and the two shared the sweetness together under a hot September sun.

“These are the original watermelons and they taste delicious, which is why I’m buying a whole one,” Williams said. “I’m so glad I stopped.”

Jabar’s van and food truck, which he often covers with homemade neon-colored signs advertising everything from sea foam to sugarcane, are a staple of Cobbs Creek Parkway near 63rd Street in West Philly for three years.

The vehicles are so present at the busy intersection that they were both beaten mercilessly by fleeing drivers. The food truck, which Jabar had to remove and will soon replace, was hit three times; his van, five.

“In three years, my trucks have taken a beating,” he said.

Jabar also witnessed his share of chaos at the intersection. He once saw three crashes in four hours and helped pull an elderly woman out of her crashed car.

Yet Jabar, 39, remains unflappable (and well-insured).

“For me, it’s about nurturing the community,” he said. “It’s so empowering to be able to help my community and give them fresh food alternatives.”

Jabar, originally from the Bronx, grew up in a family that sold watermelons on New York’s roadsides. These watermelons (like most of Jabar’s produce today) came from parents who have farms in the south.

But Jabar didn’t always plan to jump into the family business. He worked as a sous chef in New York to study and become a technical engineer. He wanted to fix trains and moved to Philadelphia seven years ago, hoping to work for Amtrak or SEPTA. But life led Jabar down another path.

While applying for railroad jobs, he held other jobs and drove Uber to supplement his income. As a proponent of herbal remedies, Jabar spoke with his passengers about the benefits of products like black seed oil (used for everything from acne to asthma) and sea moss (an algae supposed to help with weight loss, heart health, etc.).

These discussions happened so frequently that Jabar started storing the products in his car.

“I would talk to my riders and sell it to them straight out of the glove box,” he said.

Jabar’s success inspired him to create his own line of sea moss juices, which he named after his 13-year-old daughter, Ayaana, and to expand his offering to include products and other products. completely natural.

After securing the proper licenses, Jabar permanently set up his business, Soul Glo Healthy Lifestyle, on the Cobbs Creek Parkway side in September 2019.

He chose the site because of the smooth traffic and greenery, but also because he felt called to serve the West Philly community after learning of the 1985 MOVE bombing of the neighboring avenue d’Osage.

“I felt sad about the actions that took place there,” Jabar said. “When I found out about the history of this place and this region, that was it for me.”

Today, Jabar prides itself on selling “Grade A produce at Grade C prices”, providing farm-fresh produce to seniors on fixed incomes, and handing out slices of watermelon to children at the leisure center. Cobbs Creek nearby.

In the span of two hours last week, as Jabar pumped Pandora’s Rick James station through a loudspeaker and set his products on a sidewalk table, a dozen customers, mostly regulars, turned up. arrested. A tow truck driver didn’t even get out of his vehicle, he just held two fingers out the window and Jabar ran him two watermelons.

Almost all customers have said that Jabar’s seeded fruit keeps them coming back.

“It’s got the best fruit in town,” said Anthony Coprich, 55, of West Philly. “I love that it has fruit that contains real seeds, which means it’s all natural.”

Although he buys some items locally, Jabar obtains his hard-to-find produce — like yellow and orange watermelons and cane stalks — through relatives and acquaintances with ties to southern farms. Sometimes he goes to the farms himself and details his journey through photographs on his Instagram page.

As fall approaches, Jabar will modify its offerings to include more vegetables, such as collard greens, sweet potatoes and okra. And in winter, he will sell rock salt and shovels with all available products to supplement his income.

“Even when it changes from summer to fall and the food changes, it’s still there and it’s still good,” said customer Micah Thorington, 50, from West Philly.

Outside of work, Jabar enjoys spending time with his daughter, riding his bike and being an active member of his mosque, Masjid Al-Wasatiyah Wal-Itidaal, in West Philly.

Three years after starting his own business, Jabar is grateful for the decision he made.

“I feel excited and stronger because I believed in myself and bet on myself, and it turned out well,” he said. “Even with all the car crashes, all the losses, people insulting me because my truck is on the side of the road, it feels really good to bet on yourself, take that risk and roll the dice .”

Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story is worth telling, or someone whose story you would like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at [email protected] or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.

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