We spoke with Barry Alper, owner of Fresh Restaurants in Toronto. We found out what his favourite order is at Fresh, why Yonge and Eglinton was the perfect location for their newest restaurant, and what it’s like to keep up with all the new delivery apps.
Fresh has such an extensive menu… Admit it: Is there anything on it that you’ve never tried? What do you order most often?
I have never tried the Green Poutine, any of the supermilks or the immunity shots. Not sure why, but like most Fresh customers, I have my favourites and tend to order them over and over. So I think it’s pretty good that these are the only ones I haven’t tried! My usual orders are the soups, the Transformer Salad, the Big Salad, and green juices and smoothies. I am partial to the Alkaline Balance and the All Green.
Do you have to love yoga or be vegan to enjoy Fresh?
Ha! No, of course not! We became popular with yoga fans because our food and juice is so perfect for before or after a yoga class, but it’s also perfect for anyone who enjoys good tasting things. I think of Fresh as the vegetarian restaurant for non-vegetarians. Anyone who has found themselves throwing out fruits or vegetables in the last week is a great candidate to be a Fresh customer, because they obviously want to eat fresh and clean, but perhaps they don’t know how to make fresh produce tasty, or maybe they just don’t have time to cook at home.
We also like to think of ourselves as a great place to go for anyone who is active and who cares about their body – whether that’s yoga or any other physical activity. Fresh has great stuff for before and after a workout of any kind.
How do you use social media to promote Fresh Restaurants?
We use 3 main avenues: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Right now, we use them to interact with our customers, but we’re looking forward to developing some plans to reach new customers too. We recently hired a marketing manager, so we’ll be able to be more proactive about our approach now that we have someone focused solely on this area of our business.
What is your bestselling dessert? Your best selling juice?
Our cookies are our bestselling dessert (we love the Sweets From the Earth cashew cookie!), and the Urban Detox from our cold-pressed juice line is our best selling juice.
All of the other Fresh Restaurants are located downtown. What did you love about Yonge and Eglinton that made you want to open up a location there?
Years ago, I had a company that worked on the outdoor signage at the Yonge Eglinton Centre, and since then I had always liked the neighbourhood. Then, over the years, whenever we would ask our customer base where they wished we would open a new location, Yonge and Eglinton was always top of the list. So we were always on the lookout for the perfect space to become available. We got a little unlucky with the timing, since right after we opened, Metrolinx moved in and started tearing up the street. Soon that will be done, and when the new LCBO, Loblaws and condo building right across the street from us is finished, I think that location will become our flagship.
Have you mastered any of the recipes for your own home cooking, or do you just eat from the restaurant?
I eat at the restaurants every day, so when I cook at home I make things that we don’t have at the restaurants, like pasta. I’m most famous among my friends for my caesar salad. I’m not 100% vegetarian, but my first choice is always a vegetarian meal. That’s why I think I can relate to our non-vegetarian customers – since I eat meat on occasion, I have a unique perspective on Fresh’s role in the world of Toronto’s restaurant offerings. For so many of my vegetarian friends and colleagues, most of the restaurants in town are a no-go, since there are no veggie options. But I have the whole world of restos to choose from, and I still love Fresh the best!
What are your biggest challenges as an indie restaurant chain trying to feed Toronto better?
As most businesses would say, staffing is our biggest challenge. Attracting and holding onto great people is the most important part of our business – without that, you have nothing.
And lately, another big challenge we’ve faced has been trying to integrate new technologies into our old infrastructure. New delivery services have entered the Toronto restaurant world like a tidal wave in the last few months, and you have to be a part of them if you want to compete. For us, our front of house was designed with one POS station. But now, we have 2 or 3 services that require an iPad. Takeout orders used to come in on the phone only, so the orders would come in one at a time. Now they come in on the internet, so they just flow in all at once. It’s a challenge to keep up with the new technologies while still doing all the things we used to do.
With rising food costs, how do you keep your menu prices where they are?
We work with our suppliers to get the best prices possible, but we also don’t sweat the small fluctuations. We have a set menu that doesn’t change often, so we just trust that over the course of a year, the prices will all balance out. Certain things go up and certain things go down over the seasons, so it usually works out in the end (we love that philosophy!). Every 18-24 months we change the menu, and at that point we raise the prices if needed to absorb rising food costs.