A Wise Approach to Wellness

Kardish Health Food Centre
Written by Claire Suttles

Kardish is an Ottawa based health food store with a difference. Smaller sized and run by warm, attentive staff, the family owned business has the feel of an intimate, traditional neighbourhood grocery – but with a diverse and modern product line for one-stop shopping.
With nine locations throughout Ottawa, shoppers never have to travel far to find their nearest Kardish. “We are really a model based on convenience,” says President and Owner Robert Assaf. A mid-size footprint also makes shopping easy. With each store measuring between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet, they are large enough to stock what shoppers need, yet small enough to navigate quickly. “There is not a big line; you can get in and out. You can get helped with what you need, get to the cash [register], pay for it, and be on your way.”

Customers will find a full range of health products in each Kardish store, including specialty health and bulk foods, gluten-free products, natural health and beauty aids, vitamins, and other natural health supplements. “We are big enough to carry a big product offering, but we are small enough to offer great service,” Robert points out. “We definitely have a big advantage in service.” The chain is known for its knowledgeable staff, always ready to assist. Passionate about the products they sell, these health food enthusiasts undergo extensive, ongoing training, keeping them abreast of the latest industry trends and the many products lining Kardish’s shelves.

Kardish’s Goldilocks business model – not too big and not too small – has been a huge hit. “We have added a store a year for the past five years,” Robert shares. This growth and success really took off when Robert and his brother Carey bought the business from the Kardish family in 2010, building on the success of their father, Michael, who owned three Kardish franchises. During his 28 years as a franchise owner, Michael had been a key force behind a series of instrumental changes in Kardish Health Food Centre’s product offering and philosophy. He introduced new products, focused on customer service, and earned a strong customer base, making his stores among the top performing Kardish locations.

After helping out in the family’s franchise locations throughout their teenage years, then venturing out to try their hands at various careers, the Assaf brothers took over the business with a clear vision for a 21st century health food store. The first step was to modernize the company and increase efficiency. “Everything was very archaic,” Robert recalls. “It was an old mom and pop style [chain]. You have the cash register; you are pricing every product with a pricing gun and price stickers. You are doing all the ordering completely manually. The IT side was lacking.” This laid back, old school approach is common within the health food industry, Robert says, and he recognized that Kardish needed to separate itself from the pack.

To do so, the new owners would need complete control of the company, which meant putting an end to the franchise model that Kardish had utilized for decades. “We had to acquire control of the [franchised] stores so we could achieve consistency,” Robert explains. “You can’t expand without consistency.” The brothers rolled out new systems across every store, focusing on increasing efficiency and improving customer service through specific training programs.

As soon as the new systems were in place, Kardish was ready to grow. “Once everything was cleaned up, we knew there were key areas, pockets in Ottawa where there just wasn’t a store like ours – a health food store that sold the products, a store that could compete on service. We focused on those key areas.” The brothers eagerly scoured these targeted areas for the ideal location. “Every time I was driving around I would barely have my eyes on the road; I was looking at all the [real estate] signs,” Robert says, laughing at the memory. “Thankfully I didn’t get into any accidents.”

The team relocated three stores to better locations and opened five brand new stores in quick succession, bringing the total number of Kardish stores up to nine. “Our new stores are newly fitted up and all have a consistent feel and look, a consistent design and layout,” says Robert. These new stores are strategically located throughout Ottawa, ensuring that shoppers in virtually every neighbourhood have easy access. “They are really spread out nicely throughout the city.” In fact, Kardish has earned a reputation among industry insiders for its ability to reach a wide customer base. “If a new brand wants to launch a product and get into the market, their brand representative says ‘you’ve got to start with Kardish because that is where you can get the proper coverage throughout the city.’”

After several years of focused growth, the team is slowing down to ensure that the company remains at the top of its game. “We are fine tuning things after such an aggressive period of growth,” Robert explains. “We are taking a breath to [make sure] we are being efficient because when you are just focusing on growth your priorities shift.”

Marketing has become a new priority during this pause in growth. The company has hired a nutritionist to act as Brand Ambassador, educating consumers about healthy living, and the community has warmly welcomed these educational efforts. “We get a lot of requests from a lot of different government departments and a lot of corporations [that] have health and wellness week at their workplace. They want us to participate, to contribute. The goal is to get out there into the community to spread the [word] about the great products and services that we offer and really educate people.” The company also sends a monthly flyer to about 250,000 homes each month, advertising specials and giving healthy living tips. An in-store demo program also reaches customers and educates them on new products. “We work with our vendors to plan and coordinate demos in all our stores for customers to try new things.”

Strong relationships with vendors and suppliers keep initiatives like the demo program running, creating a win-win situation between both parties. For instance, after undergoing a recent ownership change, the nutritional supplement company Innovite Health has been working closely with Kardish – and the payoff has been significant. “They have made tremendous changes in their management, their business structure,” Robert remarks. “Just in the last year they came out of nowhere and really expanded their business quite a bit, just through doing the right thing. They came on and participated in our flyer, they wanted to do demos. Every program that we had they wanted to do it full-tilt – and they have seen a great return.”

Kardish’s commitment to quality remains a given. Products are carefully vetted and the company stands behind them with a satisfaction guarantee. The no-questions-asked refund guarantee allows customers to try new products risk-free.

A careful combination of quality, convenience, attentive staff, savvy management, and consistent systems has rocketed Kardish to success. Over the last few years the company has become the area’s largest health food chain – and this is only the beginning. Although the team is taking a temporary breather to ensure that Kardish’s systems remain top-notch, future growth is still very much on the table.

There is still some growth potential within Ottawa for Kardish to explore, Robert says, but the company is also looking at eastern Ontario for its next move; the customer base is already in place. “Our name, our brand is strong in the Ottawa area. We have people coming to our stores from an hour away.” The team is eager to bring their stores closer to these loyal shoppers, increasing Kardish’s reach and setting the stage for continued success.



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