Leading Through Crisis: Ruth Tal

Ruth Tal, Founder, Fresh Restaurants

Being thoughtful and nimble are at the core of Fresh Restaurants’ strategy as the brand navigates its way through the current COVID-19 crisis.

“In a disruptive crisis like this, the hardest thing to do is to balance walking compassionately in the shoes of our employees, guests and the wider world, while simultaneously making expedient, rational decisions to protect the financial health and survival of the business,” says the plant-based chain’s founder Ruth Tal.

“Compassionate, effective leadership is important during the best of times, but, in these extraordinary times, this trait has become even more critical for all of us in the Fresh organization.”

And, given Tal identifies personal responsibility, active listening and being present among the most-important qualities for effective leadership in the foodservice industry, she and her team have a good base to start from.

“[In the current environment,] the biggest challenge is getting ahead of the changing circumstances and being ready to adjust course quickly, without looking back,” explains Tal. “We’re using this time as an opportunity for reinvention, improvement and innovation.”

And, the culture within the company is one that supports this. “People who work with us understand it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s how you process or course correct those mistakes that’s really key,” she says. “Fresh comes from two-and-a-half decades of learning on our feet and trial and error. As big as we’ve become, we continue to remain agile.”

She also notes that active listening has long been applied to the day-to-day operations of the business, but also serves as a tool for employee engagement. She explains this as a process of “listening to people’s motivations, how they want to contribute and integrating them into the business.”

Engaging and motivating the brand’s restaurant teams remains a key focus while the company navigates the ever-evolving situation created by the pandemic. “We quickly recognized that this moment called for greater emphasis on consistent, reliable, fact-based communication with our employees,” Tal shares. “Daily and weekly team meetings have helped reinforce to our employees that we have their best interests in mind.”

Tal also explains that supporting the local community through initiatives, such as providing meals to those in need and supporting essential workers, not only put Fresh’s founding principle — creating positive change in the world through food — into action during the crisis, but boosted employee morale at its locations.

“I’m more thoughtful and deliberate about what it takes to not only bounce back, but to actually create a business with even more value and positive societal impact,” Tal says of how she’s adapted to the industry’s current reality. She and her team have been focused on “putting the mission of stabilizing the business and finding the opportunities amid difficult constraints first.”

And, through the ongoing challenges created by COVID-19, Tal says she’s been leaning on her team more. “I listen more, trust more, empower and actively support my partners, director of Operations and home-office team, who are on the front lines facing the day-to-day challenges,” she explains. “My job is to not get stuck in old habits, but to embrace the long view; staying focused on the horizon and the innovations that will define our tomorrow at Fresh.”

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