Chicago native James Bloodsaw Jr. heard his calling for cooking while working at Reggio’s Pizza at age 17. Now, the longtime Madison resident plans to introduce people to vegan and vegetarian dishes with flavors familiar to taste buds.
“Mainly, my whole vision of my company is, we provide a health version of your favorite foods,” Bloodsaw said in a recent interview.
He can prepare a mean vegan burger with arugula and peppers. Bloodsaw also came out with his own vegan recipes for reuben sandwiches, corned beef, shrimp Po’ Boys, hot wings and barbecue sandwiches. As a chef, he is a strong advocate for buying organic foods at farmers’ markets and local grocery stores.
“I’ve been working in the food industry for 30 years,” Bloodsaw said, but never went to culinary school.
The 48-year-old chef reminisced on his experience at the legendary Black owned pizzeria known for their “butter crust” and frozen pies. Owner John Clark took Bloodsaw under his wing, teaching him how to cook.
“I was more into sports until I worked at Reggio’s. Then, I found my passion, which is cooking,” Bloodsaw said.
Soon after, the new chef would find himself relocating to Madison along with his mother. Bloodsaw then began working for Madison Elks Club where he spent nine years. He ended up serving as sous chef and part time executive chef.
Bloodsaw loves witnessing the smiles on others’ faces after preparing a dish for them. He said he gets a warm feeling when people enjoy his food.
“Once you have a passion for something there’s no limit, because you can teach somebody to cook but you can’t teach passion,” he said.
After almost a decade at Madison Elks Club, Bloodsaw decided to try something new. He started working for Upstairs Downstairs Catering in 1996 where he would serve as the executive chef.
Bloodsaw also experimented with his own creations on the side. He was preparing vegan dishes for himself which he said requires a lot of creativity. Luckily, Bloodsaw has a lot of practice.
He has been a vegetarian for six years and a vegan for three. Bloodsaw made serious lifestyle changes after a conversation with his late father James Bloodsaw Sr. about his health issues in 2011. He said his father had problems with high blood pressure and diabetes.
“Pretty much my father, he was on his passing, on his deathbed and he said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t end up like this,’” Bloodsaw said.
While he had started his journey as a vegetarian almost a year before, he felt the need to start thinking more seriously about his diet. Bloodsaw said this time was a real turning point in his life because it was all about eating right and exercising.
“I couldn’t stand spinach, but now I love spinach,” he said.
When Bloodsaw would cook for himself, he would bring his vegetarian dishes to work and his colleagues would try his food. He did not think his coworkers would like what he brought but Bloodsaw received surprisingly great reviews — which at first he thought were just polite.
“I just thought they were saying it because they work with me, but then they said, ‘you ought to be selling this stuff,’” he said.
Bloodsaw kept receiving affirmations from those in his circle. He said his cousin James Davis, the owner of JD’s Food Truck, encouraged him to start a business. Bloodsaw said his pastor Alex Gee of Fountain of Life Covenant Church even told him he better have a business card next time he saw him.
So Bloodsaw did just that. In March 2018, Bloodsaw decided to officially start his own business. After attending workshops through the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and participating in the WARF’s free UpStart program, he was ready.
“I talked to my job and said I really want to do this. I took some classes,” Bloodsaw said.
He would go on to host pop ups and host healthy cooking demonstrations, and participate in fairs like the Madison Mini Market Faire, which he called the best $60 he ever spent.
“I gave out samples and people loved it. People were from Janesville and from Milwaukee,” he said.
The attendees even asked him to visit their cities. Bloodsaw hopes to spread the word about vegan and vegetarian foods. He said all his kids eat his vegan dishes and three of them are vegetarian.
“My children work with me and kids are honest, so they will tell you ‘ugh, this nasty,” Bloodsaw said.
Today, Justveggiez has pretty much become a family activity. Bloodsaw said his new business venture allows him to spend quality time with his family. He has nine children and he believes one of them is on the verge of becoming a chef.
“All the festivals I do, my pop ups, they’re there with me. They’re my workers,” he said.
In the future, Bloodsaw hopes to find funding for a restaurant to better serve his customers. He wants to continue to host events and share foods people have never thought about trying before. Bloodsaw hopes more people in communities of color will consider changing their diet.
“It can eliminate some of the health issues our communities have,” he said.
Justveggiez will host their First Year Anniversary PopUp Party at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on April 27 with an entirely vegan menu.