Ruth Tal named October’s Canadian of the Month (Canadians Abroad)

Ruth Tal

October’s Canadian of the Month
Ruth Tal
Founder, Fresh Restaurants 

Ruth Tal is the founder of Fresh Restaurants and co-author of five national bestselling vegan cookbooks. With more than two decades of experience in the natural food, juice and plant-powered restaurant industry, Ruth is lauded by the Toronto Star as “pioneering the juice and vegan scene in Toronto,” an attribution she has worked fearlessly to earn. In 1991, after traveling the world for seven years, Tal returned to Canada to open Juice for Life, proving that a plant-based diet can be satisfying, energizing and crave-able. Now, more than 20 years later, Juice for Life has evolved into Fresh, which NOW Magazine called, “Toronto’s most venerable vegetarian restaurant empire.” In 2015, Tal was recognized by PROFIT and Chatelaine Magazine as one of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs, the country’s largest celebration of entrepreneurial achievement by women. With five well-established Toronto Fresh restaurants, including the newest Fresh on Front location in the historic St. Lawrence Market district, Tal is excited to take Fresh to the next level, bring her unique vision to new markets and continue to change the perception of what it means to eat vegan. In Fall 2019, Tal teamed up with longtime friend and fellow Canadian restaurateur Shereen Arazm to open Fresh Restaurants’ first United States location in West Hollywood. Fresh On Sunset / 8768 Sunset Boulevard 

Why did you choose LA to be the first US location for Fresh?

It’s truly a full circle moment for me. I’ve taken so much inspiration from LA over the years, so it’s pretty special to finally be opening a restaurant here. At the age of 17, I came out west for the first time to work in a vegetarian kitchen in Big Sur. It was a life-changing experience! A few years later, I became vegan, founded Fresh and helped pioneer the plant-based movement in Toronto. Ever since, it’s been my dream to eventually bring Fresh to LA!

Tell us about your trials and tribulations of getting a restaurant business up and running in LA?

What trials and tribulations? It’s been a breeze! Just kidding. It took perseverance, and a healthy dose of optimism to keep going after a few disappointments. We fell in love with several locations and got very close to signing leases before the deals fell through at the last minute. One location got scooped up by a weed dispensary the same day we were supposed to sign the lease. We had a full set of architectural drawings for another one but couldn’t get past the permit phase because the building needed a seismic retrofit that would have tripled the construction budget for us. Searching for the right location, negotiating with prospective landlords, securing the necessary permits, and enduring the construction phase are the guts of what it takes to get to the glory part of opening a restaurant in a great city like Los Angeles. Having fellow Canadian Shereen Arazm, Terroni Los Angeles co-founder, as a partner opened many doors for Fresh that would otherwise have remained closed since we are unknown in LA. The upside of these trials and tribulations is that when Fresh on Sunset came our way, Shereen and I had forged a strong partnership and we felt like we could face anything together going forward. Fresh on Sunset was the home Fresh was really meant to have. It was worth the wait and the struggle to get there. We are so proud of this space, the location is perfect and we love the vibrant mix of businesses and quiet residential neighbours in the West Hollywood community.

Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking to expand their business from one location to multiple locations?

Ask yourself why do you want to expand your business? What drives you? We expanded each time our current locations were bursting at the seams, so it was a necessity.
Going from one to two locations changes everything about the daily running’s of a business. It also means you cannot be involved in everything that happens in your business anymore. You can’t be in two places at once (let alone five or six places at once!), so you must have a strong management team who understand your vision and believe in the brand as much as you do. You have to give your management team opportunities for advancement and upward mobility in the company. That’s one part of how we keep growing. The people who work for us in upper management have been with Fresh for many many years, and they are truly like family.

What’s your favourite juice blend these days? 

I’m usually running around, so I grab one of our raw cold pressed organic juices out of the fridge. Currently, the Urban Detox with ginger, parsley, spinach, kale, swiss chard, romaine, lemon, green apple and cayenne is my favourite. If you are hardcore about your juice habit like I am, this is the one to get. Having a rich, beautiful glass of green juice is one of the key, healthy “must-haves” in my daily life. The greens in the Urban Detox are nutritional powerhouses that energize, revitalize, detoxify and restore the pH balance in our systems.

Tell us about the vegan food industry in Toronto and how it compares to LA? 

LA is ahead of the curve and always has been. But Toronto has been quickly catching up in the last couple of years. There are many innovators and entrepreneurial risk takers on both sides of the border now. It’s amazing, and I am thrilled to be witnessing it, and thrilled to be a part of it.

Is there a “must-try” item on your menu? 

That’s a hard question because we have so many! Let me narrow it down to three.
1. For carnivores and vegans alike, The Beyond Cheeseburger is a really mind-blowing experience the first time you try one.  For vegans and vegetarians (unless you were raised one), it takes you immediately back to your childhood and all the memories of birthday parties and barbecues with hamburgers come flooding back. Ours has Chao cheese on it which just further enhances the experience, plus we use a full Beyond Burger patty, unlike some fast food places that just use a miniature version where you don’t get the full taste and texture experience.
2. Our Quinoa Onion Rings are something we’re well known for – especially with our house made chipotle mayo. In Toronto we handcraft over 400,000 onion rings every year.
3. And then, my last pick has to be my current obsession, the Phytosalad. Phyto is the latin word for “plant” and is perfect to describe this salad, which contains plants in all forms – microgreens, sprouts, leaves, flowers, herbs, fruits, nuts & seeds. It has soba noodles to ground the salad and make it satisfying enough to be a meal on its own. The 3*6*9 Dressing is named after the 3*6*9 oil it contains, which is designed to contain the ideal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. This dressing is savory and sweet all at the same time and perfectly complements this salad.

Do you see yourself relocating to LA? 

It’s possible, down the road, but only if I were no longer still co-running Fresh Restaurants in Toronto. We are planning on opening more locations in the next few years, so moving to LA permanently is quite a way off.  I enjoy being truly bi-coastal, spending about half my time in Toronto and the other half in California working on Fresh LA with my partner Shereen. I love everything about life in LA, my family life here, the nature, climate, and the abundance of inspiration all around me that supports my plant-based lifestyle.

Any insight you can share on where you are planning to open the next Fresh?

We spend a lot of time up and down Laurel Canyon and in Studio City. We are feeling like the Valley could sure use a Fresh, and so could we! So, that’s what we’re scoping out, but you never know! Life throws curves, and we are committed to staying open to whatever opportunities come our way.

You are stranded on a desert island, what three foods must you have?

1. All-in-one Power Shake
2. Phytosalad
3. Turmeric Latte
All from the Fresh menu, of course!

Canadians Abroad is a non-profit social, cultural and professional advocacy organization. The website actively promotes Canadian cultural identity in the United States through interviews, events and opportunities.