DavidsTea founder David Segal on New Venture ‘Mad Radish’ and Why Healthy Can Be Easy
David Segal’s entrepreneurship journey has always been guided by the sentiment, “Why has it always been so?”
When he co-founded DAVIDsTEA in 2008, he innovated something that had been around for about 5,000 years by wondering why tea has always been boring, its gatekeepers stiff decorum, pomp, and circumstance. And then, while helming DavidsTea, he wondered why being healthy on the go with a busy schedule meant eating something that tasted like “bird food” that wouldn’t give you enough energy for the day. So he left DAVIDsTEA and created Mad Radish, the salad chain that started in Ottawa and is now making waves in Toronto.
Mad Radish improves upon the traditional salad by turning it into a meal. In Segal’s words, it’s “ on a mission to transform the way people think about healthy food.” With a chef-driven menu and an emphasis on flavour, it brings together culinary technique with fresh ingredients, and serves them up in an environmentally-friendly way. Because for Segal, it’s all about creating a quality experience for the consumer and helping them get to where they’re going — whether it be to the gym or work.
Not only is Segal innovating in areas we often don’t think we need innovation, he is also getting Canadians to think about their relationship with health and what it means to consume responsibly — all by being guided by an entrepreneurial passion ignited by boundless curiosity.
Here, he lets us in on what’s needed to make a business stand out, create lasting relationships, and lead a brand with plenty of heart.
What is Mad Radish’s point of differentiation?
Eating well shouldn’t taste like taking your medicine. All of our dishes are designed to be complete, flavourful meals – no matter what kind of diet you follow. Along with salads, sandwiches, smoothies and soups, we have a huge focus on warm bowls – we just launched a new seasonal Fajita Barbacoa bowl that is incredible, and our Fired Up Chicken bowl is a consistent top seller. We’re also “cashless and trashless” – all Mad Radish packaging is 100% compostable.
What lessons did you learn from DAVIDSTEA that you have been able to apply to this new venture?
1.) A single-minded focus on delivering an unforgettable customer experience. We want every customer who comes into our stores to be completely delighted by their experience at Mad Radish and we build this mission into everything from our store design to our staff training.
2.) The importance of a great product. All the customer service and great branding and beautiful locations won’t bring people back into our stores if the food doesn’t deliver on our promise — to taste as good as it makes you feel — so we’re constantly iterating the menu, and we introduce seasonal offerings throughout the year.
3.) The importance of giving back. We have an amazing partnership with Community Food Centres Canada – one serving of fresh produce is donated to a local community food centre every time an order is placed through the Mad Radish app or website. Because helping make great tasting, healthy food more accessible goes beyond our stores and our customers.
4.) Even though we decided not to call it DAVIDsSALADS, you’ll still feel my presence as a founder. My co-founder Stephanie and I still personally read customer emails (the good and the bad). We still pick up the phone and call customers who have feedback on their brand experience. And we build corporate policies that allow every employee to feel empowered to act like a founder themselves.
Q & A
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE INDUSTRY YOU'RE IN?
In hospitality, you have the ability to make someone’s day. It can be as simple as a memorable interaction with our staff, or serving a meal that delights them. Putting a smile on someone’s face? That’s pretty cool.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU'VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
What you stand for never changes. How you do things should never stop changing.
WHAT IS THE LESSON THAT TOOK YOU THE LONGEST TO LEARN?
I’m still learning.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR ROLE MODELS?
Michael Jordan – he turned his weaknesses into his strengths over time.
WHAT ARE SOME LONG-TERM GOALS?
Making great tasting food accessible to all Canadians and to help Canadians make small changes to their diet that will impact their overall health
HOW DO YOU BALANCE WORK/PERSONAL LIFE?
With great difficulty.
HOW DO YOU STAY FOCUSED?
If I’m honest, I’m not a very single-minded person. I sweat the small stuff, so I’m constantly thinking about a dozen different things that I want to do, or change, or investigate. I do try and schedule work time on specific topics into my calendar to focus on bigger priorities and goals – and I love phone calls over getting lost in the swirl of email.
HOW DO YOU UNWIND AT THE END OF THE DAY?
I go to the gym, I meditate and I practice yoga pretty regularly. I play basketball for fun – I may not be tall, but I’m fast!
ANY BOOK/MOVIE/SHOW RECOMMENDATIONS?
For business, I’m constantly recommending ‘The Hard Things about Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz. And personally? I’m in the Schitt’s Creek fan club. I cannot get enough of Moira.