Garden Gangsters had my attention before they even opened.
I had just finished a gruelling cardio session in Liberty Village, only to be handed a indiscriminate dinner bowl from a smiling woman at the door, “This one is delicious, trust me!” she chimed, rhyming off a list of ingredients that had my post-workout hanger reaching a fever pitch. “We’re opening across the way in a couple weeks” she explained, and I squinted over at the signage she was referring to. ‘Garden Gangsters’… how clever, I thought, making a mental note to check back once they were officially open.
Fast forward a few months, and Garden Gangsters has seemingly taken the health-conscious citizens of Liberty Village (and beyond) by storm with their avocado toast, nutrient and flavour-packed bowls, salads, cold pressed juice, treats and more. Immediately earning their rightful spot as a local favourite, Garden Gangsters won Notable Life’s ‘Best in Catering’ award. So of course, we felt it was necessary to sit down with Ian Paech (the founder of GG) to get his take on the secrets of the biz.
What initially gave you the idea for Garden Gangsters?
A few years ago I started competing in Triathlons around Ontario, and that’s when clean eating really struck a chord with me. I started a company called Evolution Food Co. over near the St. Lawrence Market, and I essentially used my experience creating that menu/business structure and later selling the company, as ‘proof of concept’ of my idea for Garden Gangsters. More than anything, we really wanted to recognize the opportunity that exists in urban markets where consumers are looking for (and likely struggling to find) healthy and truly tasteful meals on the go.
And yeah, if you had asked me in University if I ever thought I would end up working in food, I definitely would have laughed — but here we are. Food was always a passion that I had, and it really morphed itself into this viable business that we’ve created. And I wouldn’t be able to do it without my staff, and all the hard work they put in to ensure all the complex and moving parts that are involved with running a restaurant are taken care of, each and every day. It’s been a wild ride so far, but we’ve been very fortunate to have such a loyal and growing customer base right from the get-go.
What about the name?
It seems like everyone today is hustling, and one of our taglines is actually ‘fuel for the hustle’. Regardless of what you’re doing, we wanted to provide food that can give you the energy to continue on that hustle and get through the day and everything that you hope to achieve. “The struggle is real, the hustle is hard and sh*t just got nutritious” is the mantra we live by.
And how has business been? Have you been embraced by the Liberty bubble?
Yeah, absolutely. Liberty is kind of it’s own neighbourhood community and enclave within the city, full of people that are incredibly welcoming to and supportive of small businesses and entrepreneurs which is really cool. Seeing them embrace Garden Gangsters the way they have, those familiar faces coming in for lunch each day or posting to social media about their experience, it’s something you hope for — but when you see that actually realized, it’s just an incredible feeling.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
As any entrepreneur will tell you, the ‘hustle’ isn’t for everyone. While Toronto is notably welcoming to small businesses and the entrepreneurial pursuit, there is no denying that there are countless hoops to jump through before you can really get going. And of course, this means unforeseen set-backs or delays at times which can be discouraging, but that’s just part of the grind and really, you either love it, or you don’t. In my case, myself and my team — we love being a part of this and see the opportunity to be a part of something (and grow with something) that is more than just going to work every day.
How do you differentiate yourself from other health-food establishments in the city?
We make all of our sauces, vinaigrettes and everything in-house, everything is fresh, nothing is cut and pour and we’re always re-vamping and improving upon our menu. We really wanted to provide our customers with a great experience both from a quality of taste profile, as well as the experience they have within our space and interacting with our staff. For us, it’s a matter of never jeopardizing quality. Living in Toronto, we’re so fortunate to have a wide variety of cuisine types and experiences, we get to try so many different taste combinations and food types, which is really what Garden Gangsters is about. We’re here to offer wholesome, healthy on-the-go food that never sacrifices taste or quality, while always keeping the taste profiles we offer interesting and worth coming back for again and again.
Are you set to open more locations?
Yes, actually. Given the success and support we’ve seen within our two existing locations (Liberty and the St. Lawrence Market area) we are eager to bring our food and approach to other neighbourhoods in the city, namely within urban centres. Currently, we’re looking to expand into The Path in the financial core.
How does it feel to already win a Notable Award?
It is absolutely amazing. We’ve only really been in operation for a few months now, so I think the quality of our food is really the contributing aspect to this award, as well as the customers that we see daily. It’s a very rewarding feeling to even be considered for something of this calibre (let alone, win) when we are such a young company, and it speaks volumes to what the staff do here day in and day out and the experience we strive to give our customers.