From her first day on the job at an upscale surf and turf restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ, Christine Ruch knew she had found her niche. Even though she was only 18, “I knew right away that food was my calling and I was never going to do anything else.”
Fresh Thymes Eatery is the culmination of Christine’s passionate years in the food business, but a lot came before that.
The Ritz Carlton Model
Christine worked for Ritz Carlton for four years, eventually ending up as the food and beverage trainer. “If you got a job at Ritz doing room service, afternoon tea, banquet service, basically for the first 30 days you were stuck with me.” The system of total quality management back then was pretty avant garde, and it resonated deeply with Christine.
It was the first time the system had been used in the food industry, and she found it radical and progressive. Ritz was modeling it from the ground floor up, the idea being that a Cambodian dishwasher had as much input as the CEO. How is the CEO supposed to know how to hold glassware better, if the uniform is restrictive, or if better mats would reduce breakage?
Christine really saw the benefits. “That dishwasher can now effect change in his work space. It allows him to excel, he feels more heard and empowered, and it flows through to better service. It means that every employee in the front and the back of the house has the ability to effect immediate change.”
In the Lead-up to Fresh Thymes
Christine got a college degree in political science, worked as a GM for Paradise Bakery, taught cooking classes at Sur La Table, and started her own catering company, Sassy Girl Foods, where she taught classes and provided private chef services. All her work revolved around the food industry, and the lessons from Ritz stayed with her.
Christine loved health and fitness; she had always been into good food and nutrition and had been a competitive rower. She went through natural childbirth twice and made her own infant formula when required. So in 2006 when she bent down to pick up her sweatpants from the floor and a terrifying electric shock charged from her neck to her feet, she knew something was very wrong.
A Diagnosis…and a Radical Life Change
Christine rapidly worsened and a neurologist quickly diagnosed MS. Soon after she tested positive for celiac and multiple food allergies.
Everything Christine had learned in the past told her to manage her disease with diet, even though doctors believed otherwise. Although her family thought she was crazy, she worked with a naturopath and started a strict elimination diet. With this radical change, every. single. symptom. went away.
“I knew that food had changed my health, and I was never going to eat the same way again.” She and her family moved to Boulder where she went to Bauman College for holistic nutrition, taught classes after she graduated, and where the seeds for Fresh Thymes were finally planted.
The Germination of the Idea
Christine thought Boulder could use a casual eatery that could be quick or where you could choose to linger. She took everything she’d learned about food and created a business where employees wanted to come into work because they enjoyed the culture (remember those days at Ritz Carlton?), and where the customers wanted the food because it was nourishing and tasty. It irritates her that, often, gluten-free food simply isn’t delicious.
“I just went for it,” she says. “I wanted a place where even your grandpa who comes to town and scoffs at your diet could enjoy it.”
Christine knew from experience that people with complex food allergies who necessarily have to know all the ingredients on their plate can’t eat out at very many places.
She wanted to break the stereotype that nourishing food was bland and prove that you could create a fabulous food experience without the ingredients everyone believes critical for yumminess. Fresh Thymes is 100% gluten-, peanut-, and cane sugar-free and only uses organic corn, soy, and dairy sparingly. Tuck your complicated food needs under your arm and head in there: anyone behind the counter is happy to advise you or pull out the binder and share the ingredient list.
Baby Steps on the Path to Better Health
Christine is now a decade into her lifestyle change around food and for her, it’s full speed ahead. Yes, it’s hard to give up foods you love, but she advises starting with incremental, meaningful changes. “It can’t be too overwhelming at first, because that doesn’t necessarily foster long-term change — then we just finish a cleanse and rush back to the cheese pizza. Be more mindful of oils you use, more health supportive in general. Commit to swapping out dairy. Take small steps. The truth is, the harder you make it, the harder it’s going to be.”