Fresh started out as a travelling juice bar called Juice for Life in 1990. It all began when Ruth Tal, after returning from 7 years of travelling and working around the world, tried her first fresh carrot juice. After learning about the medicinal and nutritional benefits of fruit and vegetable juice, she developed an almost evangelical desire to share what she had learned with as many people as possible. She had also just become vegan, and was finding it hard to find anywhere to eat in Toronto.
She had returned to Toronto intending to go to university. Instead, student loan in hand, she bought two industrial juicers and hit the road. She set up a booth and juiced wherever she could: Lollapalooza, Edgefest, Kumbaya Aids Benefit, Caribana, and at various health lectures. She soon opened her first semi-permanent location on the patio at the famed Bamboo Club on Queen West. Soon after that she moved into a permanent spot in the Queen St. Market, right across from the City TV/Muchmusic Headquarters. Space was very limited at this location: there was no proper kitchen, and no tables, only stools at a counter. While she did start serving food as well as juice, there really wasn't enough room to set up a fully equipped kitchen or to do everything she dreamed of.
Within 3 years, the place was bursting at the seams and she started looking for a location for a full service restaurant. An old Hungarian schnitzel house in the Annex became available and she turned it into the first full service Juice for Life location. The dream was to have a place where marginalized vegetarians would feel welcome and catered to, and non-vegetarians could be introduced to vegetarian food that did not fit the old stereotypes of what people at the time thought vegetarian food was - bland, boring and unsatisfying.
Meanwhile, Barry Alper had been working with Ruth as an accountant and business advisor during this time. Ruth recognized that if she wanted to expand and be able to serve as many people as possible, she would need help to get there. With his business background, Barry was able to approach the business from a different perspective, and he had been getting more and more involved in the business over the years, so becoming partners was the natural and obvious next step. Together they opened a new location inside the Le Chateau at Queen & Spadina.
Shortly after that, Jennifer Houston came to work in the kitchen at the Bloor St. location. She quickly became the manager of the kitchen, and began implementing systems and standards that would allow the kitchen to function more efficiently. A couple of years later, she became so invaluable that Barry and Ruth made her a partner. So, with the 3 partners in place, Juice for Life grew and grew. By 1999, the partners decided that the name Juice for Life no longer represented what the business had evolved into, since food was now selling more than juice. The name was changed to Fresh by Juice for Life, and is now just "Fresh".
In 2002, Fresh on Crawford opened on Queen West, at the corner of Trinity-Bellwoods Park. This location was designed by Ralph and Pina Giannone, and has won several awards for its modern organic design. In 2006, the Queen Street location moved into a larger space on Spadina, and is now called Fresh on Spadina. Also designed by the Giannone team, this location is geared for intense power lunch rushes for office people and busy dinners for the many customers living in lofts in the neighbourhood.
In 2007, the original Annex location moved three blocks east to the corner of Bloor and Spadina. Hip architectural firm, Third Uncle, designed the new Fresh on Bloor, in the colourful spirit of the Annex/University of Toronto and Yorkville neighbourhoods.
In 2013 Fresh on Eglinton joined the ranks, bringing the Fresh experience north of Bloor for the first time. Designed once again by Giannone and Associates, this fourth location takes its inspiration from images of nature.
Almost since the beginning, Ruth and Jennifer have been sharing the Fresh way of eating and drinking through their series of best-selling cookbooks. The latest, Super Fresh, has some of the most sought-after recipes from Fresh’s history, like the All Star Salad, BBQ Burger, Beach Bowl and Squash Tacos. Available at all major booksellers.
Fresh has also been experimenting with expansion to other cities, partnering with like-minded restaurateurs to open two locations in Moscow, Russia.
Stay tuned for more of the continuing adventures of Fresh!