Slim's Healthy Kitchen embarks on drastic cutbacks just months after revealing expansion plans
A chain of healthy eating restaurants in Northern Ireland has closed six of its eight outlets in a drastic reorganisation of its business, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Slim's Healthy Kitchen, which was set up by Gary McIldowney in 2013 after the former electrician underwent his own dramatic weight loss, has pulled down the shutters at its Victoria Square premises in Belfast city centre and five other locations.
In January last year, he described how he had a recent turnover of £4m and an average of 5,000 customers per week - as well as plans to bring Slim's Kitchen to Baggot Street in Dublin, Londonderry and the UK.
Mr McIldowney, who is also a former DJ, told the Belfast Telegraph last year how his poor eating habits led him to hit 24 stone.
"I'd stop at a petrol station and get a sandwich, a snack bar and a juice, and think that was healthy enough. I should have been grabbing a tin of tuna and a salad."
He eventually slimmed down to 15 stone but in November, said this weight was "yo-yoing" at the time.
The Victoria Square Express Slim's followed a year after the first Slim's opened on the Lisburn Road, and a third followed on Belmont Road in east Belfast last year, along with openings in DW Fitness Clubs in four Northern Ireland locations.
A spokesman for the firm said affected staff had been redeployed elsewhere in the business. It's understood around 30 people were employed across the outlets which have closed.
Slim's was one of the first in Belfast to cater for the growing interest in 'clean eating', offering superfoods like avocado, kale and sweet potatoes as part of its menu of fast-food dishes and smoothies.
Since the first Slim's opened, other clean-eating joints have followed, from Raw Food Rebellion on the city's Lisburn Road to Goodness Rocks on Saintfield Road.
Slim's had also entered a partnership with DW Fitness Clubs - but that link-up in Northern Ireland has ended, leading Slim's to close down its DW outlets in Bangor, Boucher Road in Belfast, Londonderry and Newtownabbey. It has also shut down in Dundonald's Eastpoint Entertainment Village - now pizza joint, Loco.
It's understood the branches all closed down in recent weeks.
Two large Slim's restaurants now remain at Belfast's Lisburn Road and Belmont Road.
A spokesman for Slim's said: "Slim's Healthy Kitchen has ceased trading at the following locations: Dundonald Omnipark, Victoria Square and within DW Fitness Clubs in Bangor, Newtownabbey, Boucher Road and Derry.
"This is a result of GJD Restaurants Ltd undertaking its own members' liquidation as part of a total reorganisation of the group of GJD Restaurants. Our experience has shown that the brand works very well in specific locations. In the new structure with our partners, the retained restaurants continue to successfully operate at Lisburn Road and Belmont Road, Belfast.
"All staff at the affected locations have been offered employment at other locations and as a result jobs and employee rights are secure. We are confident this process of reorganisation will strengthen the business for future growth."
Three months ago, Mr McIldowney told the Belfast Telegraph he planned to open Slim's outlets in seven DW gyms in locations in Scotland, but the company spokesman said it would not comment on any future plans.
Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne said the decision to expand rapidly, followed by an even more rapid contraction, reflected that the food scene was increasingly influenced by changing trends.
"Slim's was the first to offer that kind of clean eating product, but now we have many other locations, such as Tony & Jen's and Raw Food Rebellion, doing the same thing in an even more specialist way. The success of the Lisburn Road and Belmont Road suggests they have gotten the market right - but it would seem that it's a specialist brand that doesn't work in other areas."
Mr McIldowney described last year how his weight had "crept up".
"I was cheering on my older sister, Laura, as she crossed the finishing line in the New York marathon in 2006, and made the decision to lose the weight, get fit and come back to do one myself. It took me a long time to realise that at the end of the day there is no secret diet or pill to help you lose weight, it's about a healthy, balanced food and moderate exercise," he said.
He then developed his plan for a restaurant.
"I couldn't find anything like it anywhere in the world. No one was pulling together the mix of food I envisaged - good and 'bad'; not all super healthy. I realised the answer is balance."
Mr McIldowney also employed his brothers Joe and Mark in the business but is listed as the sole director of GJD Restaurants.