Foodbenders is a new take-out lunch place in the Junction that doesn't sacrifice nutrition or flavour for grab-and-go convenience. After starting to sell their fare in cafes and other local businesses back in April, Kim Hawkins and Kevin Rickey opened their own retail location in June. The Dundas Street West shop sells salads and sandwiches to go, as well as sauces and jarred products, weekdays from 10:30am to 2pm.
After a morning gym visit, my body is craving some serious nutrients when I arrive at Foodbenders for lunch. Looking around, the decor gives a hint of the fresh and wholesome fare to come. The cozy space is decorated with light green walls, potted green plants, simple wood furnishings, and plant-themed art by Rickey's girlfriend, Shannon . Behind the counter I can see Rickey, the chef, chopping and blending away.
As we chat, Hawkins explains that Foodbenders strives to offer a progressive food option that is healthy and that supports local farmers and sustainable farming practices worldwide. Having worked with people with HIV/AIDS in her previous international development career, and with both her parents battling cancer, Hawkins is particularly interested in how nutritious food can help manage illness. She reached out to long-time friend Rickey, a professionally trained chef with an haute cuisine background, to launch Foodbenders.
The menu is mostly vegetarian and made from scratch using primarily organic ingredients and natural sweeteners, while nixing typical (yet troublesome) fast food ingredients like trans fats, sodium, and preservatives. I'm told they also use super foods as much as possible, at which point I can't help but picture a broccoli in a cape . Hawkins explains that these foods are high in antioxidants, vitamins, protein, and essential fatty acids, such as goji berries, pomegranate, and yes, broccoli.
Lunchtime visitors can choose from various salads loaded with leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, and seeds ($7-$7.50) and sandwiches of both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian variety ($7.50-$9). My inner penny-pincher was happy to hear you can get a salad and sandwich for only $12.
Since there's no seating in this take-out-only joint, I head to a nearby bench for lunch. My arugula and shaved roots salad is filled with long curly strands of raw carrots, beets, and rutabaga. As far as salads go, this one is simply fun to eat--the veggie equivalent of a big bowl of spaghetti--with a satisfying crunchiness. White flecks of hemp hearts adorn the peppery arugula, and a sprinkle of feta adds a bit of tangy saltiness. The blueberry vinaigrette delivers some fruity sweetness to top it all off.
My salad was fresh and flavourful, but probably not substantive enough for a meal, particularly if you have an appetite like I do. Good thing I also pick up the popular agave espresso BBQ chicken sandwich as part of the $12 combo deal.
I bite through the soft Turkish flatbread to enjoy layers of crispy kale, sharp cheddar, buttery avocado, and moist shredded chicken. The smoky heat of the barbecue sauce, with subtle coffee notes, is balanced by the fresh kale and avocado for a mild spiciness overall. Personally, I could've gone for a bit more zing in my BBQ sandwich, but I finished my meal feeling nourished and energized.
Foodbenders also sells grocery items like jarred foods, sauces, and spreads, featuring many ingredients picked fresh from Hawkins' backyard. I pick up a jar of the superfruit chia preserve, filled with blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and pomegranate ($6). My morning bagel with jam now tastes extra sweet knowing all the antioxidants I'm consuming (which hopefully counteract some of the damage from my summer ice cream addiction).
While it's still early days for Foodbenders, they're happy to already have 10 wholesale partners, including Jimmy's Coffee , The Arrow , and Moksha Yoga Uptown , and plan to do more catering too. Since opening their retail location, they've also been feelin' some serious Junction love. "People have been so sweet and supportive," Hawkins gushes sincerely, "we're so appreciative."
My only beef with Foodbenders is the limited weekday-only hours (that's organic and locally-sourced beef, of course). My beef subsides when Hawkins explains that they're working practically non-stop and, as a single parent, she can't commit to weekends. However, she's happy to report that nearby Amani Earl's is Foodbenders' newest weekend wholesale partner, "so Junction folks can find our stuff on the weekends."
Photos by Jesse Milns