Whether riding her motorbike solo from sunny southern California to the Arctic Circle, or launching her own vegan takeaway shop, Toronto native Moira Nordholt is always pulled in the direction of adventure. A true maverick, she opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Banff, Alberta, almost two decades ago (before burning out and pulling up stakes), and has also worked as a flight attendant, freelance writer, and private caterer. Here, she shares the most recent chapter in her fascinating life story, in which she brings healthy vibes to Toronto via organic vegan food and drink at Feel Good Guru.
How and when did you become interested in plant-based eating?
I became vegetarian at 17 while living in Paris. I had been eating horse meat for 6 months and had an “ah-ha” moment one day while looking in the mirror: "You are what you eat." So it was for vanity at first, until I recognized the health benefits and then it became about eating for wellness. I have seen so many people get very healthy very quickly on a plant-based diet. This is the approach I take with Feel Good Guru. We serve our customers the healthiest food available for takeout.
How did you know the time was right to launch a brick-and-mortar location?
There was a timing-and-opportunity moment after I moved back to Toronto from Venice Beach. my neighbourhood desperately needed a healthy takeout. A shop on my favourite part of Queen St. West came available, and I needed a job!
Tell us about some of the business practices that set you apart from others.
We grow some of our food, both indoors in our urban cultivator and outdoors in a small plot of land nearby. it’s fun and rewarding to get hands in the soil and to be able to share that story with our customers. All of our takeout ware and packaging is biodegradable, we use only organic food and cleaning produces, and neighborhood deliveries are made by bicycle!
What are your most popular menu items?
Our Make Kale Not War salad is the most popular item on the menu, along with our Super Green Fuel and our Avocado & Cashew Cheese Sandwich. They’re all nutrient-dense and delicious. Our customers tend to love the most labour-intensive food. It makes sense because they contain a lot of good plant and human energy: Breads that take all night in the dehydrator, smoothies that contain 17 ingredients, kale that’s been massaged by hand with rock salt, organic olive oil, and lemon juice. People taste the love whether they’re aware of it or not.
Describe a typical day in your life.
The only constant is that whatever I have planned for the day never works out as planned. I get pulled in so many directions throughout the day. I have to make myself lists and give myself reminders constantly. Generally speaking, I am a late-night owl, so I do a lot of my numbers, emails, produce orders, scheduling and back-end affairs at night when it’s quiet and I can finally think.
My early-morning staff are in long before me these days, juicing and assembling the menu for the day. I’m floating between front-of-house serving customers and back-of- house making desserts and experimenting with new menu items if I get a chance. I am still our juice delivery gal, so each day when the juices are freshly pressed, I put ‘em on the bike and ride them to our local yoga studio. I love that daily contact with our clients.
Once a week I go to our local farmers’ market and spend time with our main farmer chatting about food, soil, the growing season, and trying to buy as much kale as possible from him so he stays in business! I try to make a nightly yoga class, but it depends on the week. Some weeks I have been able to do 5 evenings in a row. the last two weeks, only once.
You spent four years in Venice Beach; what are some of the cultural distinctions between beachside LA and Toronto?
Oh, I miss Venice! I miss the crazy happy freaks and the 6 farmers’ markets within a bike ride of my house! California is such a dream. Sunny every day and everyone is into healthy living. people line up for fresh-pressed juice and raw foods in Venice.
Toronto is awesome. Our culture is much more interesting, more global. The healthy food scene is evolving quickly but we still have six months of cold weather. Raw food is a hard sell in the winter here so we change up the menu with hot stews and soups delivered daily to offices and yoga studios, and in-house, we serve warm comforting elixirs and more hearty brown rice and quinoa veggie boxes.
What advice would you offer to someone who dreams of opening their own vegan café or other creative enterprise?
I’ve done this before, so I learned from a lot of mistakes the first time round. I think everyone needs to make their own mistakes. it’s how we come to succeed. I'm still making them! it’s like landing in Calcutta for the first time; you can read all the books, talk to everyone you know who has travelled there, but nothing can prepare you for that moment you step off the plane.
What are some of the things you’re looking forward to in 2015?
I’m hosting a small week-long raw foods cooking retreat in Venice in February, then cooking for a yoga retreat with a brilliant Toronto yoga teacher in Mexico in March. This is all the fun work--the stuff I love to do outside of managing a plant-powered take-out. Beyond that, I can’t even project or foresee, but I always look forward to meeting the people who come into my shop, collaborating with other business owners, building a mini empire out of curly kale!
photos by Ron Proulx/Moira Nordholt/Feel Good Guru
She's Swell! >> Moira Nordholt
Hometown >> Toronto
Dream Travel Destination >> "Three days in bed would be a dream destination!"
What's In Your Beauty Bag? >> Coconut oil--all over
A Day Off Work Might Entail ... >> "Taking an afternoon off to go to the Russian sauna or steam. My beloved motorbiking hobby has been kickstanded for the last three summers."
Inspiration >> "Richard Branson and the dude with one leg who rides his bike down Queen Street. They’re both changing the world. "
Fave Spot in Toronto >> "Trinity Bellwoods Park. it’s beautiful every time of year and it’s right across the street from my shop."
Alternate Dream Career: Veterinarian. "I hate the sight of blood but i love animals."
Swell! Autumn Edition