Tomato, carrots, lemon, pink salt, bell peppers and cayenne peppers. Feels like a fireworks of taste, a vitamin bomb. I feel that shot # 4 Optimist - the micro cocktail served while I wait to meet the owner of Fresh - at least lives up to its name. There are six of them in the menu that I hold in my hands - 50 ml each, for a variety of occasions - and I will definitely take all these jars with me. This is how I want to “light up” every morning.
Vitamin shots are one of the latest favorite inventions of Irina Azarova, a “green cook” and a gourmet of healthy cuisine. She started her business five years ago, proceeding solely from personal tastes: "I had no ideological, cultural or religious prerequisites to become a vegetarian." An exemplary student, according to the family tradition of several generations, she entered the economics school after school, at the same time she met her future husband. As a student, she gave birth to a daughter, then a son; after graduation she was engaged in a growing family and self-education in the field of art. There were always many guests in the house - and at some point, the hostess's vegetarian experiments turned out to be the most popular dishes at friendly feasts. She herself was carried away by healthy eating - and realized that it made her life much easier.
MC: Irina, how did your passion for vegetarianism grow into a business?
Irina Azarova: A completely natural way. I began to try options for dishes without meat and fish and found that our meat-eating friends liked it. Friends wrote down my recipes, and I tracked my condition. And I realized that I feel good - easy and tasty! I was looking for special literature, began to experiment, and then I thought that with so many developments, I could open a cafe. An acquaintance who has lived in Canada for a long time told me about a woman who has had several of these cafes successfully working for 12 years. I wrote to Ruth, went to see her, we became friends. I realized that from her experience you can take basic things and adapt it to Moscow, using our climatic and cultural characteristics, without giving up the tastes to which we have become accustomed from childhood. This is how I built my project. By the way,it was Ruth who helped me find the first chef, a former athlete from Mexico, who was totally into the fresh theme.
How long did it take for your decision to mature? And did it quickly justify itself?
It took about five years from the beginning of my experiments to the opening of the first cafe. And of course there were many doubts. At first, only 50 people came to the cafe a day. Many did not understand what we were doing, we had to explain everything to the employees. The husband sometimes asked: "Do you already see that it is time to close?" But, fortunately, we did it. And we are going to expand.
Healthy food was believed to be for women. But the situation is changing, and now men are more meticulous about their health.
Can you say that vegetarian cuisine is a fashionable business today?
You know, a few years ago, if a person specified that he was a vegetarian, they looked at him as if he were sick. Now these stereotypes are breaking down. For example, I’m not saying that I’m a vegetarian, so as not to put limits. And my children are not vegetarians. And 90 percent of those who come to us at Fresh are not vegetarians and are not going to become one. Here everyone finds their own format of communication with this topic. Fashion in nutrition, in my opinion, is more and more approaching such a flexible option.
Perhaps your story is closer to women?
It has always been assumed that a “healthy topic” is for women, but today the situation is definitely changing. There are almost the same number of women and men among our clients - about 55 to 45%. And there are days when only men come. I will say more: those of them who have already taken the direction of a healthy life are in this sense more meticulous and consistent than women. They dive into details - they ask such interesting questions! But in general, “our people” are simply those who lead an active lifestyle, work, travel, strive for new things, for experiments, and love sports. Very dynamic women and men, for whom their own health is a component of success. I have no doubt that this trend will continue to develop. Last April, I did an internship at Matthew Kenney's Healthy Eating Academy in California, where they are convinced that such principles can be integrated into the life of every ordinary person. Instead of sausage, it is quite possible to put half an avocado on your morning sandwich. Add lemon, take multi-grain bread, and you're already creating a healthy accent, giving yourself direction. Yes, health is not for the lazy, here you need to invest in yourself, but this is the best investment. Personal realization in this world becomes much higher.here you need to invest in yourself, but this is the best investment. Personal realization in this world becomes much higher.here you need to invest in yourself, but this is the best investment. Personal realization in this world becomes much higher.
It would be nice if you didn't have to torture yourself for this
As in every case, the main thing here is without fanaticism. That's why I like the fact that not only vegetarians go to Fresh - it doesn't look like a sect. We try to create a free space that unites people only by the desire to use the possibilities of healthy eating. A good mood, a positive attitude towards life, and openness are becoming a priority. It's like in children's coloring - the colors of the world in which we live begin to appear.
Well, well, what do you think of those who eat cutlets, smoke, drink alcohol?
I try to avoid the “bad” or “good” categories. Today there is a lot of talk about the "80 to 20" principle: you can eat 80% of what is useful, but otherwise you still reserve the right to some indulgences, do not create a rigid framework. You know, some come to us for a weekly detox program and ask: "But I smoke - can I do a detox or is there no point?" I answer: of course you can, try it! And if you reduce your cigarette consumption by at least one per day, it will already be a step towards health.
From a hobby you almost immediately stepped into entrepreneurship - what turned out to be the most difficult?
Probably build the whole model at the very beginning. This is not an ordinary restaurant business, it has never been on the market before. If you want to be successful, you have to invest yourself in every aspect of your business. I started by remembering my old knowledge in accounting. I spend hours in the kitchen every day. And it is important for our guys to feel that I am attentive to this. Many companies have corporate events - and I decided instead to do “health days”. On such a day, all our points are closed, and we go to the skating rink in winter, in summer we take bicycles or roller skates, and play volleyball on the sand. This is how connections of a different order are established. And once a month we open two hours later: I myself prepare breakfast for the guys and we discuss everything - not just working moments.
I try to start every day with a wheatgrass shot. The most powerful energy charge!
All this is great - what if you need to fire someone? Surely even in the "green" business there are tough, unpleasant situations
Maybe I don't perceive it as harsh and unpleasant … Even if it comes to dismissal, I try to talk to the guys. There were many such cases: we conduct a dialogue, he understands something and after that he works even with greater efficiency.
You mean, if you deal with everyone, then it can be productive, cost-effective?
Well, I don't have such a huge company - about a hundred employees - and I find time to talk.
What is the most popular customer request today?
Now there are many trendy superfoods on sale: overseas goji berries, chia seeds - no one really thinks that their counterparts have always been in our natural strip. We just never called these products that. And so people buy superfoods and ask: what to do with it? Where to pour it?
What's your favorite superfood?
Wheatgrass shot - I try to start every day with it. The most powerful energy charge!
Can you describe your typical day?
I get up early. I go to the spring - this is a hobby: I pour myself cold water in any weather.
In fact, it only sounds scary. While there was no business, I did it every day. Now, due to the schedule, it does not always work out, but I am not lazy, I take a bucket of ice water and shower myself. Then I have to practice breathing. I arrive at the restaurant at 11 o'clock. And then - a normal working day.
And it's all about her
owner of the FRESH healthy food restaurant chain
Age: 54 years
Family: husband - businessman; adult children: son is a student, daughter works as a journalist
Education: diploma of the Moscow Institute of Transport Engineers with a degree in economics; Phillips de Pury art history courses; studies at culinary academies in the UK and USA; online course on sports nutrition
Sports: yoga, Thai boxing, longboard
Aroma: Philosykos, Diptyque, with rich fresh notes of fig
Musical instrument: piano; I plan to learn how to play the saxophone
Beauty must-have: natural moisturizers with marine ingredients
Favorite routes: Italy, Asia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Scandinavian countries
Photo: Julia Mayorova
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