A husband and wife team of entrepreneurs are bringing their dream of a healthy fast-food option for Battlefords residents to life.
Rakesh and Shwetal Patel are owners of the Freshii franchise at Frontier Centre in North Battleford which just opened last month.
The opening is the culmination of three years of hard work to get a fresh-food outlet off the ground, in addition to working their current jobs.
Both Rakesh and Shwetal work for the health authority in the Battlefords. Part of their motivation for launching the business came from their health care background. They saw that many health problems were created by unhealthy eating and bad diets.
“Why do you get the poor health? Because you don’t get the very fresh food,” Shwetal points out.
Another motivation came from their own backgrounds. Both Rahesh and Shwetal come from the western portion of India, and both are vegetarians along with the rest of their family.
For vegans, there was “less choice,” Shwetal said. They saw a void in the Battlefords of places providing healthy, vegan food, and saw a great opportunity.
“If we want to jump in a business, let’s do something different,” said Rakesh.
But it was more than that. They saw an opportunity both to make money, and “help the community to eat fresh and healthy food,” said Shwetal.
The menu includes salads and wraps, bowls, burritos, soups, juices, smoothies and sweet treats. They provided the News-Optimist with one sample: low-fat frozen yogurt, topped with green apple and raspberries.
At Freshii, “everything is fresh,” said Shwetal. She noted the smoothies and the juices at their location are all made with fresh products.
“We don’t add any concentrate, we don’t add anything,” she said. “Everything is going to be fresh.”
There are also opportunities for customers to mix and match and change things up from what’s on the menu. “It totally depends on whatever you like,” Shwetal said.
They put high a priority on customer service, but you will never hear them use the word “customer.” Instead, they use the word “guest.”
“It’s more about our approach, about the personal approach,” Rakesh said. “They are guests, and we serve them very well.”
When they looked into setting up a business in the Battlefords, they had initially looked into other franchises. They approached Booster Juice, but they said no, mainly because they considered North Battleford’s population to be too small.
“We didn’t know about Freshii at all,” said Shwetal. The Patels discovered it through a Google search. They learned Freshii had been operating since 2005 and was an all-Canadian franchise, which appealed to them.
When they approached Freshii about a franchise, they had no qualms about North Battleford’s size. They gave the Patels the go-ahead, and the Patels then went to work arranging the financing and getting the business launched.
Freshii representatives identified Frontier Centre as a viable location, particularly for people coming from out of town. The Patels also negotiated with Frontier Centre for both inside and outside access, so that the business could be open at night when the rest of the mall was closed.
When the Patels had approached Freshii for a franchise, they sold them on the pitch that there was “no competition.” It was a different story compared to other, bigger communities where there were plenty of “fresh” food options.
Rakesh had lived in Toronto initially when he came to Canada as a student. But Toronto was not a good place to find employment. He explained employers there favoured short-term contracts, and he needed a full-time position and title for immigration purposes.
He expanded his search to the West and soon got calls back from Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“OK, I will choose Saskatchewan,” he said.
He moved to Regina and then Yorkton before settling in the Battlefords. The whole time, his wife Shwetal was still in India. They travelled back and forth between Canada and India to carry on what was turning into a long-distance relationship.
With Rakesh having settled in the Battlefords, Shwetal came over in 2013. Now that the Patels are both here, they say they love it and are in the Battlefords long term.
“We don’t really want to go somewhere else,” Rakesh said.
They point to a number of advantages the Battlefords has compared to the bigger cities. Rakesh pointed to more opportunity and a good lifestyle. Shwetal pointed out that “you can go in 10 minutes anywhere.”
Cost of living is also lower. Shwetal said daycare in the Battlefords costs far less than it would in the bigger cities, where costs could double or even triple.
The access to the wide-open natural spaces was another plus. Shwetal also pointed to the nature trails and less pollution.
She also said she likes the friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the community from others who live here. As an example, Shwetal said her neighbour across the street serves as a babysitter for her four-year-old boy.
Their desire to launch a Freshii franchise stems from a desire to give back. The way they are doing that is by providing a healthy-eating option, they said.
“People gave us something, so we have to give them back something,” Shwetal said.
All in all, the Patels say they are very happy to have found a new life in the Battlefords.
“I love North Battleford. Like, people told me there was more crime there, it’s the number one in crime, but it’s my home,” Shwetal said.
She explained that even on the occasions when they go back to India to be with relatives there, she finds after a couple of days that she misses North Battleford.
“This is the home for us, for sure.”