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First-grade teacher trades in books for healthy fruit biz

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse
First-grade teacher trades in books for healthy fruit biz
Edible Arrangements franchise owner Toya Farrar holds one of her fruit creations in her South Boston store. Farrar opened the store in 2007, after working as a teacher for 10 years. (Photo: Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse)

Author: courtesy Toya FarrarEdible Arrangements franchise owner Toya Farrar holds one of her fruit creations in her South Boston store. Farrar opened the store in 2007, after working as a teacher for 10 years.

“Fruit has never said so much” is the slogan of Edible Arrangements, a national company that sells bouquets of fruit.

With products like “Simply Daisies,” a vase of flower-shaped pineapples, and “Berry Chocolate Bouquet,” an arrangement of chocolate-covered strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes, and heart-shaped pineapples, Edible Arrangements has created a healthy alternative to the usual gifts or table settings.

Toya Farrar opened Boston’s first and only Edible Arrangements store in 2007, and since then has taken great pride in the product she sells to local residents.

Demonstrating clear satisfaction with her job as owner of the South Boston store, Farrar said when she first learned about the Edible Arrangements franchise, she thought, “it was beautiful, it was healthy, and it was delicious,” a product she could “really believe in.”

Before opening the store, Farrar had worked as a first-grade teacher in the Boston Public Schools for the previous ten years and sold real estate on the side. But she realized that her real dream was to start her own business.

Although Farrar had a graduate degree in education and a steady-paying teaching job, she explained, “I just felt like, if I didn’t take a chance to do what I really wanted to do, then it just wouldn’t happen. So it was just time for me to do it.”

Farrar began researching business opportunities, and less than a week after learning about Edible Arrangements, decided to open her own franchise. Founded in Connecticut 10 years ago, the company has grown to over 900 locations around the country. She was particularly drawn to the company because it offered a healthy product.

“I didn’t want to sell a burger or a donut,” she said, “I wanted to really emphasize children and adults eating healthy again. A lot of our children today are overweight, and I think a lot of it is because of the foods we’re eating — potato chips, candy and soda. This is a healthy alternative to those fast foods. And this is just as fast, and fun.”

Edible Arrangements uses only high-quality fresh fruit for its bouquets. The fruit is shipped daily from California and Florida and is purchased through a “fresh approved” local vendor. The chocolate used for dipping is gourmet-quality. In addition to the elaborate fruit bouquets, Edible Arrangements also sells fruit salads.

While opening a private business after a decade of teaching may seem like a dramatic career change, Farrar said that many of her skills as a teacher have been useful in operating Edible Arrangements.

Farrar’s store is neatly adorned with seasonal decorations — much like her old first-grade classroom. Celebrating holidays, decorating windows and bulletin boards and displaying student work are all skills that transferred from elementary school teaching to running Edible Arrangements, she said.

Her ability to interact with children is another skill that has assisted in the promotion of her store.

As a teacher Farrar would dress up as she read stories to her students. This year for Halloween she dressed up as a grape and talked to the children about fruit as they went trick-or-treating on Broadway St. “It’s just hilarious,” she said. “Interacting with the kids on that level comes from being in the classroom.”

Farrar also makes significant efforts to give back to the community. She hires employees from the Boston Pre-Release Center, a correctional facility that transitions former inmates back into the community.

And this November, she is partnering with Nexus Alliance, a Massachusetts-wide network of black male professionals, for a Thanksgiving turkey handout. Nexus Alliance plans to donate 1,000 free turkeys to families in Dorchester and Farrar will distribute free fruit bouquets.

Farrar also donates extra fruit to Roxbury’s Haley House. Didi Emmons, who runs Haley House, said that she uses the fruit for her program “Take Back the Kitchen,” and has the children design their own fruit arrangements.

As the storeowner, Farrar has received certification from the State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance (SOMWBA), and is the only Edible Arrangements storeowner with such recognition.

Unfortunately, the economic crisis has hurt the business. “It’s been extremely difficult,” she said before rattling off the cutbacks on staff, supplies and operating costs that she was forced to make over the past year.

 To compensate, Farrar said that she has done extra grassroots marketing by passing out flyers and samples throughout Boston to let people know about her South Boston store. In these tough times, she said, potential customers view her fruit bouquets as a “luxury item” and do not want to spend money on non-necessities.

However, Farrar sees her product differently. “It’s a healthy alternative to gift-giving, really … Instead of flowers for your girlfriend’s birthday, [this is] a nice delicious celebration. It doesn’t have to be a luxury item. It can be an everyday item for people. And that’s what I want them to know, what I want them to think about when they’re thinking about a gift.”

Despite the recession, Farrar remains optimistic about business. “I’m so passionate about it that I know it will catch on,” she said.

For more information, or to buy an edible arrangement, visit the store at 613 E. Broadway in South Boston, or on the web at www.ediblearrange ments.com.