Pure Kitchen: The 'radish' spot in town
When Olivia and Kyle Cruickshank were brainstorming restaurant names just over a year ago, they wondered if “vegetarian” would be considered a dirty word.
“We thought of calling it ‘Pure Vegetarian Kitchen’,” says Kyle, recalling the days leading up to the brand-new restaurant’s launch in Westboro. “But we wondered, ‘Will that turn more people off, instead of bringing them in?'"
In fact, it’s hard to imagine the easy-going young couple turning anyone off. With his slight frame and scruffy beard, Kyle has an approachable demeanour and is clearly at ease chatting at length about Pure Kitchen — where he is general manager. Olivia, the restaurant’s head chef, is quieter than her husband, but there’s always a smile playing around her piercing blue eyes — and her contagious laughter punctuates our conversation.
Central to our discussion is the incredible success Pure Kitchen has enjoyed in its first year. Kyle sums it up succinctly in just three words, “Beyond all expectation.” The pair explain that this is the driving force that bumped up the timeline to open a second location on Elgin Street.
“We knew we were going to open a second location, but we thought it would be two to three years,” says Olivia. “The timeline shrunk very quickly after realizing how popular this location is.”
Kyle attributes part of Pure Kitchen’s early success to its connection with Pure Yoga, owned by business partners Amber Stratton and Jen Dalgleish. The yoga studio — located just up the street from the restaurant on Richmond Road — sees about 300 people pass through its doors on a daily basis, and maintains a mailing list of more than 2,000 people.
“We were part of the pre-established community there,” Kyle says. “But it has been interesting to see how much we grew out of the niche market.
“What surprised us is how the vegetarian label has not been a detraction to anybody.”
Kyle explains that while many yogis stop by Pure Kitchen either before or after a class, the restaurant’s clientele has quickly expanded to include “omnivores and carnivores” too.
“We really pride ourselves on being a judgement-free space, even though it is vegetarian,” Kyle says. “We don’t want anyone coming in here to feel guilty that they’re going to eat here and then go buy steak for the BBQ. “We don’t care. We want to provide good quality food that will make you feel good in your own body.”
The philosophy, he says, actually works in tandem with the concept of yoga. “It’s about balance; whatever that means to you,” he says. “Everyone’s energy changes with the seasons and everyone’s body requires different food to refuel; so we’re really happy to provide something that is for everybody.”
In designing the menu, Olivia says she put a lot of thought into attracting customers who were not regular vegetarians.
“I really strove to make the food super approachable, especially for the meat eaters,” says Olivia, who studied holistic nutrition. “I wanted to show the heavy carnivores — people who eat meat several times a day — what plant food could be; even if they change one meal in the day.”
To that end, the menu includes a number of vegetarian versions of classic comfort foods — such as burgers, wings, onion rings and poutine. “I normally try and draw them in by saying, ‘You can come in and have a smoky burger with cheese, poutine and a beer’ and they’re like, ‘What?!’” Olivia says, with a laugh. “They can recognize the menu items.”
Pure Kitchen’s versions of these foods look so much like the real thing customers will actually forget they’re eating vegetarian food.
“We’ve had people comment, ‘This burger is undercooked — it’s pink in the middle,’” Kyle says, with a chuckle. “And I say, ‘That’s from the shredded beets."
“Others will have the cauliflower wings and ask, ‘How did you get the bones out of these?’ I have to remind them that they’re not eating meat.”
For those new customers who might question whether vegetarian fare will satiate them, Kyle likes to mention that a number of the Ottawa Senators often come in to eat.
“If Erik Karlsson gets enough protein, then yes, I’m sure you’ll be fine,” says Kyle. “I keep that card in my back pocket for the skeptics; it’s nice to be able to say that some high-calibre athletes eat here.”
When asked to recommend a dish for a newcomer, Kyle says it’s not always about finding the food they’re comfortable with, but rather the inspirations that most appeal.
“I like to ask, ‘Do you like curry? Do you like Asian?’ And then we can point you towards something,” he says. “You might not be familiar with tempeh or quinoa or the ingredients we’re using, but you’ll be familiar with the flavour profile. “Instead of chicken, it’s a soy-based protein — but the flavour profile is still what you’d be getting elsewhere.”
This June, Pure Kitchen will spread the gospel of vegetarian fare in another part of Ottawa. The restaurant’s second location will open its doors at 340 Elgin St. — which has been home to Maxwell's for the past 30 years. Updating the space has proved to be a formidable challenge.
“I was one of the principal cleaners when we first moved in,” Olivia says. “It was so disgusting in there; I was amazed that place was up and running. “They had literally walked out after their last service; they left everything. They left food, dishes; we threw just a ton in the garbage.”
But they’ve embraced the challenge — recognizing that putting in some good, old-fashioned hard work and elbow grease truly contributes to a sense of pride of ownership.
“It’s almost therapeutic to clean it, because it’s like claiming ownership over this old, dingy space and knowing that we were going to revitalize it,” Kyle says. “You can really visualize the potential once you have your own empty shell; when Maxwell’s was still operating it was hard to visualize what it would look like.”
In late March, after scrubbing their new home from top to bottom, the team began the process of renovating the kitchen at the Elgin Street location. “We’re going to have to gut the kitchen and pull out all the equipment,” explains Kyle. “We’re also going to redo the floors — which wasn’t part of our plan, but once you get into the space you realize what you thought was in OK shape — it’s actually the dirt that’s holding it together."
“There were some spots we cleaned and everything just crumbled; it was grease and dirt that was holding this wall up.”
In total, the couple estimates they’re putting in about six additional weeks of renovations than what they had expected. But they’re certain that the end result will be well worth it.
“You only get one chance to have the place empty, so let’s just do it all now,” says Kyle.
Stylistically, the new location will mimic the original Westboro restaurant in many ways. “Here [Westboro] there’s garage doors, there it’s accordion doors — so in both locations we have a lot of that natural light and fresh air that we’re able to bring in,” Kyle says.
The colour scheme will be “white, very bright,” he says, adding they have to cover over the dark, heavy oranges and purples that decorated the walls of Maxwell’s. “We’re going to go through a lot of white paint trying to brighten the place up.”
Likewise, the lunch and dinner menus at Elgin Street will be virtually identical to the original location — which means more of the beautifully plated, colourful dishes their customers have come to know and love in Westboro.
“Sprouts add such a beautiful finesse to a plate or a bowl,” enthuses Olivia. She adds that while studying holistic nutrition, she learned to incorporate all colours of plant-based foods in order to include a range of nutrients within a meal. Esthetics are equally important to her.
“You eat with your eyes, so I feel that it’s really important to be visually drawn to what’s in front of you.
“The array of plant-based food that’s out there is just amazing — and we’re utilizing just a small amount of that.”
357 Richmond Rd., 340 Elgin St., Ottawa, Ont.