With meals under $10, sustainable sourcing and automatic charitable donations, the Ottawa-based Radish is here to carve out a slice of the salad market
Mad Radish (2293 Yonge, at Eglinton, 647-347-4193, madradish.com) is a health-oriented lunch chain co-created by David Segal, the founder of DavidsTea, and ex-DavidsTea marketing VP Stephanie Howarth.
After opening three locations in Ottawa over its first year of existence, Segal said, the time was right to expand the company into Toronto: “We want to bring this concept anywhere in Canada where there’s a customer for it,” Segal said. “We think that customer base is going to grow over time. Toronto’s obviously a natural fit.”
The company’s focus is on making healthy eating financially accessible, sustainable and convenient: “Too often, eating healthy can feel like taking your medicine,” says Segal, who left DavidsTea in 2016 to pursue other projects. “We just think that diet is one of the biggest health issues of our time, and the way to inspire Canadians to eat better is to continue to give them food that (reflects that) eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.”
Of course, Mad Radish is not the first company to have this idea. Numerous fast-casual, salad-focused chains (corporate giants like Freshii, recent transplants like Tractor and Hopscotch, and local entries like Flock and iQ Food Co.) have swept the restaurant landscape, targeting a workforce of convenience-hungry desk dwellers looking for healthy options.
It’s a crowded sector, but Mad Radish distinguishes itself in a few ways: A focus on hot food and mix-and-match sides as well as large bowls and salads, a roster of seasonal options, a menu that’s 40 per cent vegan, and a keen eye toward price point. Says Segal: “We like to have a wide offering that’s accessible to everybody.”
While developing the menu, Segal teamed up with ex-Chase chef Nigel Finley and vegan chef Briana Kim. Bowls and salads dominate the offerings — customer faves include the all-vegan Smoky Caesar ($12.50) and churrasqueira-inspired Fired Up Chicken ($13.95) — but other selections include soups and stews (which ring in at $6 per bowl) and savoury empanada-style “hand pies” ($3.75) that can be mixed and matched to make a filling meal.
There’s also baked sides like focaccia and cookies (because, as Segal points out, “Eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself”). On the drinks side, there’s cans of LaCroix (no tea, though).
Seasonality and local sourcing is part of the focus: Though Segal admits that though seasonal produce is scarce over the winter months (because Ontario), they work with 18 different producers during the growing season.
The average Mad Radish customer leads a pretty on-the-go lifestyle, which is reflected through an array of grab-and-go salads at the front of the shop, as well as the fact that the shop is cash-free.
You can also preorder your meal through Mad Radish’s app, and your meal will be left in a blue to-go bag on a handy shelf toward the front of the shop (that’s right — you don’t even need to talk to anyone).
But the app also offers a window into the charitable side of the biz: For each web order, a serving of fresh veggies is donated to Community Food Centres Canada. On the app, you can keep track of how many you’ve personally donated, as well as the company’s user base as a whole.
I ask Segal if he’s taken any lessons from building a blockbuster Canadian brand into this new venture. “There’s important things in retail: One is product and the other is service,” he says. “DavidsTea is a 10-year overnight success — I remember our first store on Queen Street. It takes time, but we hope to do the same with the salad category as we did with the tea category.”
The all-vegan Smoky Caesar ($12.50) gets richness from smoked mushrooms, cashew parm and a creamy vegan dressing, plus roasted chickpeas and capers.
One of the more popular soups is the coconut curry chowder ($6), which packs in plenty of veggies along with ginger, coconut milk and spices.
The Harvest Bowl ($11.95) features cranberries, roasted sweet potatoes, candied walnuts and your choice of blue cheese or feta, plus quinoa and mixed greens.
The Fired Up Chicken bowl ($13.95) contains braised chicken, brown basmati, roasted sweet potato, corn nuts, broccoli and pickled radishes — the spot’s signature ingredient.
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