Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur was one of the first to introduce vegan dining, juicing, and plant-based menus to Toronto 25 years ago, and subsequently launched what has become a staple for young professionals across the city. We caught up with Fresh Restaurants Founder Ruth Tal to find out what inspired her career and what’s next for the beloved brand…
1. Elevator pitch: Describe what you do.
I founded Fresh 25 years ago when I was an evangelistic vegan in my mid-twenties. I eventually co-built it into what it is today with two amazing partners. I focus on researching, guiding and energizing the brand with fresh ideas and directions. This includes co-writing the five Fresh cookbooks, designing new locations, seeking and structuring new strategic partnerships, launching new products, co-developing new recipes, raising public awareness as to the benefits of juicing and plant-based eating, and spear-heading the worldwide profile of the Fresh brand through media and publicity.
2. What was the inspiration for your career route?
First of all, I was a hungry vegan in a city with nowhere cool to go, hang out and eat. Restaurants marginalized plant-based eaters back then, offering us not much more than iceberg lettuce at the table. It was all bland and boring. I never went out and I was in my mid-twenties, an age when I wanted to be out all the time. So, I was determined to create a place that was inclusive to those of us with food sensitivities who were hip and healthy too. I hoped to inspire people to eat this way even if they weren’t vegetarians or vegans but just simply because it was delicious. But, deep down, I wanted to establish the connection between what’s healthy for us is also healthy for the planet.
Secondly, I had discovered the energizing nutritional benefits of juicing a diverse range of colorful fruits and vegetables. I was drinking gallons of green juice, juice fasting and cleansing. I wanted to inspire and share the secret to my vibrant good health with everyone I met. Having the first gourmet juice bar was the best way to do this.
3. What is the most memorable milestone in your career so far?
Celebrating the 20-year mark since I created Fresh as a young, break-the-rules kind of girl. Suddenly, I realized that I was all grown up and ready to be independent of me. It was time to let go and entrust the daily operations of the locations into the capable hands of my partners, managers and long-time staff. This was a beautiful pivotal moment. As the business took off and grew to new heights, I was released to pursue other related interests that eventually enriched and benefited the business even more.
4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
I’ll never stop. This is my life. This how I make a positive difference and impact in the world. I see myself continuing on the same path but with a wider reach into communities that are ready to embrace healthy plant-based food and juice options just like we were in Toronto 25 years ago.
5. Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Break the rules and think outside the box when it comes to the things you are passionate about. Love your customers as much as you love what you do.
6. Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is it (or they) important to you?
It’s hard for us to say no, and so we don’t usually. We have a great business-to-business relationship with Me to We. We love and support all that they do for kids in communities around the world. We also support charities who lend a helping hand in various ways to our beautiful planet, and protecting its resources. As the daughter of immigrants, I personally have an affinity for helping refugees and immigrants.
7. What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
My lack of a high school diploma or university education was both a challenge and a blessing. It was a challenge in the early years as writing simple, important things like my first Juice for Life business plan, which I needed to get a loan, or my first cookbook proposal were painful and excruciating slow processes. But the same challenges were a blessing because they forced me to be highly self-reliant, hardworking and creative in order to achieve my goals. These qualities have since become the key to my longevity and success.
8. What does the word notable mean to you?
To me, notable doesn’t mean special because we are ALL special. But it does mean worthy of mention and thus inspiring to others.
1. Where is your favourite place to wine/ dine in your city and why?
Honestly, my own restaurants in Toronto! I have four amazing neighbourhoods to choose from depending on my mood and where I am in the city. I love the wide range of food and juice options on the menu and I always feel really good after I eat there. I’m looking forward to our new locations coming up in Montreal and Mexico City for the same reasons.
2. What’s the most visited website on your Internet browser? The most played song on your phone?
Mind Body Connect because I am addicted to yoga and am constantly checking for class schedules and Aeroplan. I am addicted to travel and therefore always planning my next trip.
I listen to audio books on my phone. Right now I am listening to Super Brain by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi for the third time!
3. Who’s one person you think everyone should be following on social media?
I’m stumped! I have the attention span of a newt when it comes to who I follow on social media.
4. What’s your favourite country to visit and why? And what’s the next one you plan on travelling to?
Costa Rica is my favourite of all time. I have been going every year for the past 20 years or so. It’s lush, green and abundant in natural resources and wildlife. India and Bhutan are next on my radar.
5. What gives you the greatest FOMO?
My greatest FOMO is missing the best hot and sweaty epic dance party ever on a night I could have gone but didn’t know about.
6. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
My guiltiest pleasure is, hands-down, extra-long holidays to far-away hot and exotic destinations.
7. What’s something you wish you didn’t spend so much money on? What’s something you wish you spent more on?
I definitely spend too much money on massages, personal grooming and organic beauty products.
I wish I spent more money on learning and self-improvement, like a new language, a new sport, or a university degree.
8. And finally, what does success look like to you? Work, play, or otherwise…
Success to me is when work and play are so interwoven that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.