Slim's Healthy Kitchen boss enjoys rapid expansion
His restaurant business is expanding – but he vows his formerly rotund figure won't, and neither will yours.
A Belfast entrepreneur who's turned his own experience of weight loss into a healthy food business is planning to open three new premises around Belfast.
Gary McIldowney, who has slimmed down from 24 stone to 15 over the past five years, opened Slim's Healthy Kitchen on the Lisburn Road in Belfast around six months ago, to the delight of foodies with a conscience.
The excitement generated by the opening prompted queues around the block for foods such as protein pancakes, kale and spring green sides plus haddock fingers "from sustainable shoals" – just a few examples from its menu.
Now Mr McIldowney, who is also a dance music DJ at El Divino, is opening up takeaway versions of his Lisburn Road restaurant at Victoria Square, at a gym in Finaghy in south Belfast and at the end of the year in Ballyhackamore in the east of the city, bringing a total of up to 60 jobs.
The Victoria Square takeway will open in the next few months.
Mr McIldowney said: "We are taking the best bits out of what do Lisburn Road and will be able to provide quick, healthy bites to eat."
He said his selling point of focusing on healthy food was unique in the city.
"It was a great idea but no one else was doing it and no-one else has put their money where their mouth is.
"We are individual and nobody else is doing what we are doing – quick, healthy convenience food."
Catering for allergies was something he said he had initially been "ignorant" about.
"We quickly saw demand for it after we initially opened and received a lot of feedback, so we've adapted our range to give more vegan or coeliac-friendly options."
Mr McIldowney said his business plan stemmed from trying to find somewhere to eat when he was trying to lose weight.
After years of discussing his battle with the bulge, he points all enquiries to a blurb on the restaurant's website.
"It all began because of my trials and tribulations with trying to acquire and maintain a healthy lifestyle," he said.
"For anyone that doesn't know me or know my history/story I have always maintained that I am not a glutton – I am an explorer of food, mainly cake."
The Belfast man said favourites included the protein pancakes in the morning, with hordes of diners later opting for the grilled section of steak, chicken, tuna or aubergine in their own marinades.
"They don't have any bad stuff in them like salt or monosodium glutamate."
He said he had been on a steep learning curve since embarking on the business, with prior catering experience limited to working as a member of the floor staff at Cafe Paul Rankin. Most importantly, he said he had maintained a healthier weight.
"It's part of my lifestyle now," he said.