Ruth Tal, founder of Fresh Restaurants and Juice Bar in Toronto
Ruth Tal knows healthy eating. I make it no secret that one of my favourite places in Toronto is Fresh Restaurant and Juice Bar, a growing vegetarian chain she founded back in 1999. As soon as I land, I head straight to the Queen West location for their crunchy Quinoa Onion Rings and a Baby Beach Bowl with Grilled Tofu.
Since I am such a major fan of their healthy and affordable eats, I was thrilled for the chance to interview Ruth to learn about her own health journey, life advice and career path. Meet Ruth Tal!
What inspired your love of vegan foods and juicing?
My love for this planet and animals inspired me to find ways to tread as lightly on it as I possibly could. Choosing a plant-based diet and juicing were the natural outcome of this intention to help and make a positive difference in the choices I make every day.
Apart from that, I grew up loving my mom’s colourful Moroccan cooking and liberal use of fresh fruits and vegetables. Focusing on vegan foods and juicing meant I could indulge my love of eating legumes, grains, fruits, greens and vegetables even more!
Ruth Tal at home in Toronto
How did you end up starting Fresh Restaurants?
I looked around at that time, over 25 years ago and there was nowhere to eat that was delicious and hip for a young vegan like me.
I didn’t want to compromise on atmosphere, presentation, taste or service just because I wanted to be healthy. I still wanted to enjoy and have fun while I was at it. So, I took it upon myself to lead by example and open my own restaurant where vegans and vegetarians alike could go and enjoy a great vegetarian meal in a fun setting and hopefully encourage others to do the same. When I first opened the restaurant it started as a small 400 square foot café, but it quickly grew into a 30 seat restaurant, and then into two 60-seat restaurants – we just kept growing and evolving. Our growing base of customers really loved our food, and what’s more, how good it made them feel after they ate it.
What was it like running your business in the early days?
Hard work. Long hours. Exciting. Gratifying. Fulfilling.
Which three major lessons would you share with someone thinking of starting their own business?
- Do what you already love and are passionate about, because there will be many long hours and hard work ahead. You barely notice the hard work when you are fueled by passion and you love what you are doing.
- Be prepared to work harder and longer for yourself than you ever have for anyone else.
- Embrace the challenges as opportunities for growth.
Juicing and cleansing often gets a bad rep because some critics find it extreme. What’s your take on this?
Everything is about balance – juicing is something that can be done in moderation. I like to reach for a juice in the morning but then I’ll have a hearty salad for lunch. Juice is a great way to take in all of the micronutrients our bodies need to sustain us with energy throughout the day!
What’s your process for developing a new recipe?
I travel quite often and throughout my journeys I always discover a list of new ingredients I end up having intense love affairs with. When I return home, I want to be able to share the same experience, taste and benefits with our customers. And so, I incorporate these different ingredients into combinations that appear on the menu – it’s also an indulgence for myself!
When curating our cold-pressed collection, the same principle applies. I have to have juice every day, it is part of my daily routine whether I am at home, or travelling around and I love to incorporate ingredients I come across on my travels into the juice recipes.
I work through the recipes at our cold pressed juice production facility. We make the juice and establish the proportions to make sure it has the correct doses to be nutritional, medicinal, delicious and beautiful all at once.
Ruth Tal at the start of her career
If I wanted to eat healthier & cleaner today – what are three things I should change first to achieve that goal?
- Avoid packaged or processed foods.
- Eat low on the food chain, which is another way to say focus on a plant-based diet as much as possible.
- Eat clean by leaning into the green side of the phyto-chemical spectrum of fruits and vegetables. The greener you go, the more alkaline, low in sugars, detoxifying, cleansing and purifying your diet will be.
What was the most important non-negotiable thing for you when designing your lifestyle and work life?
I found in the early years that I never cancelled meetings or work commitments, but I was always quick to cancel time to meditate, practice yoga, work out, or to be with my love, family or dear friends. So, a few years ago I started actually blocking out time on my daily work schedule as if it were an important meeting I had to go to every day. This way it’s non-negotiable and I ensure that I have the time to do whatever I need to maintain a good quality of life and therefore a positive frame of mind and body.
What do you do to de-stress?
I instantly de-stress when I pause and remind myself of all I am grateful for.
Sometimes I will also turn everything off, take a bath and go to bed early. When I wake up, I will drink a liter of green juice, do yoga, call someone I love, go do something nice for someone else and then sit in my favorite park under a tree and eat Fresh take-away. And finally, I will remind myself again of all that I am grateful for.
What’s a typical day in the life of Ruth Tal?
All of the above but with 4 to 6 hours of work squeezed in, plus, grocery shopping and cooking for my fiancée and kids. We are all vegan.
What did you study in university or college and is there anything you would have done differently?
I dropped out of high school at 16 years of age and left Toronto to travel and work around the world. I was unusually independent and strong-minded at that age. I came home and went back to school seven years later. I was accepted into a political science program at the University of Toronto, and also granted a student loan to study. At the same time, I had my first glass of organic carrot juice, became vegan and had the inspiration to open my first juice bar and vegan café. So, instead I took the student loan, dropped out of university and founded Juice for Life, my first juice bar and vegan café in downtown Toronto. Three years later I paid back my student loan, and had a few university students working with me to pay their way through school.
Best piece of life advice to share? Follow your heart.
To learn more about Ruth Tal, visit http://freshrestaurants.ca
Loved this? Read our other This Beautiful Life interviews!