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David Segal Tosses Salad into His Entrepreneurial Mix with Mad Radish

David Segal Tosses Salad into His Entrepreneurial Mix with Mad Radish

David Segal is an entrepreneur and retail thought-leader. He is best known for bringing radical innovation to a 5,000 year product category with the launch of DAVIDsTEA, the company he co-founded in 2008. Segal takes audiences through the entrepreneurial journey, delving into the brand experience, growth at scale, managing the digital and retail waters, and more. David has just opened his first “Mad Radish” casual-eatery in Ottawa, and has plans to add more restaurants to the mix:

In 2008, when he was living in Montreal, the 36-year-old Ottawa native founded DavidsTea, which by the time Segal left the company last year had grown to become a publicly traded, $200-million retail business with roughly 200 North American locations.

On Friday, Segal was a blur of activity at the grand-opening hubbub of his new venture, a salad-centric, fast-casual eatery in downtown Ottawa at Albert and Metcalfe streets that’s called not DavidsSalad, but rather Mad Radish.

A second Mad Radish is to open next week in the Glebe, the same neighbourhood where Segal now lives with his young family, and Segal has his fingers crossed about more locations opening in the future.

“I’ll try and do up to five stores next year — but there’s no promises,” says Segal, Mad Radish’s sole investor, who has sunk “millions” into getting it off the ground. “Right now, you’ve got to make sure the customers love our products.”

Segal says that he and Mad Radish co-founder Stephanie Howarth, who was formerly vice-president of marketing at DavidsTea, began planning their salad business more than a year ago.

He realizes that his company is not alone in appealing to customers with the promise of fast, healthy food. “We went all over the U.S. and Canada. I defy you to name a salad concept that we haven’t looked at,” Segal says.

But Mad Radish, he says, is “truly unique.

“There’s a lack of food that’s good for you, that makes you feel good and also tastes good,” he says. “Eating well shouldn’t be like taking medicine.”

The menu, which consists of a dozen large and intriguing salads ranging in price from $11.50 to $16, three “warm bowls,” two soups and several beverages, treats and bread, is the work of chef Nigel Finley, who has worked at the Toronto restaurants Catch and the Chase. On Friday, Finley was working in Mad Radish’s kitchen, behind the cash and assembly line that are the first points of contact for customers.

More than half of the menu’s items are vegan, but Segal doesn’t trumpet that aspect of Mad Radish as much as the tastiness of its food.

He’s more keen to suggest that having Finley as executive chef demonstrates a wish to marry what he calls “the quality of food from fine dining” with “the speed of service you get with fast food.”

Mad Radish also clearly means to appeal to foodies by stressing from-scratch cooking, such as bread baked daily in-house and corn sliced off the cob in the kitchen rather than frozen, and the quality of ingredients, such as organic chicken from Voltigeurs Farm in Quebec and sustainable salmon from Nova Scotia.

Other elements of the business reflect forward and progressive thinking. If a customer places an order online through a Mad Radish account — Mad Radish already has its app for iPhones — the company donates a serving of produce to Community Food Centres Canada, which currently benefits the Table, one such centre in Perth.

Speaking of technology, Mad Radish practically feels more like an Apple Store than a restaurant, with its well-trained, visibly branded staff and minimalist, neutral-coloured ambience.

Mad Radish is also “trashless and cashless,” Segal says. That means all of its utensils and containers are compostable, and that the business only accepts credit and debit cards.

Asked to name his favourite item on the menu, Segal instantly replied, “The Smoky Caesar,” and a sample for a reporter quickly landed on a table.

The bowl got its flavours and variety of mouthfeels right, but was a vegan creation, subbing in dense, smoked mushrooms, garlic-marinated chickpeas and a “cashew-based “parmesan” for the usual bacon, cheese and anchovies.

“We’re trying to redefine what a salad can be,” says Segal, with typical salesman’s zeal. “It’s a nutritious meal that should be crave-worthy.” That vegan Caesar, at least, lived up to the pitch.

Segal says he had considered launching Mad Radish in Montreal or Toronto but is glad to be doing it in his hometown, where, for one thing, Shopify’s rise is an inspiration.

“I can think of no better place than the national capital to be building something that hopefully will grow,” he says.

Peter Hum/Ottawa Citizen/July, 2017