Eddie Rocket's franchise owner wants to grow new yoghurt brand in Republic
The Northern Ireland franchise owner of restaurant chain Eddie Rocket's City Diner has snapped up a local frozen yoghurt brand.
Justin Ward will serve Spoon Street frozen yoghurt at at least one of his Eddie Rocket's restaurants after buying the brand from founders Harry Wang and Katie Waddell, who have moved to the US.
Mr Ward has launched the first store under the new arrangement, with Eddie Rocket's and Spoon Street operating from the same premises at Lisburn Leisureplex.
The businessman told this newspaper he hopes to bring the frozen yoghurt brand to the Republic of Ireland.
"It would be great to have a branch somewhere in Dublin city centre around St Stephen's Green, but you have to think about the rent and rates down there," Mr Ward said.
Spoon Street has four locations across Northern Ireland, in Belfast city centre and the city's Ballyhackmore and Lisburn Road areas, as well as at Lisburn's Leisureplex.
There are four Eddie Rocket's City Diners in Northern Ireland - two in Belfast, one in Lisburn and another in Newry.
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Mr Ward said: "I bought the Spoon Street brand and developed the idea to put it in alongside the Eddie Rocket's branch and that opened last Friday."
He added that the addition of frozen yoghurt to the branch was drawing young teenagers after school, as well as young mothers and their children
Mr Ward also said he was looking at putting more Spoon Street facilities in other branches, as well as opening more standalone shops. "We don't have room in Boucher Crescent or on Lisburn Road, but it is something we can look at in future," he explained.
"I'm also looking at opening Spoon Streets in Derry and Ballymena and there's a few other people interested in the franchise as well.
"I'm learning the business as I go along."
While the Republic of Ireland is a target for Spoon Street, Mr Ward said he also hoped to open up an Eddie Rockets in the centre of Belfast, potentially close to the Spoon Street outlet on Ann Street.
He conceded, however, that the casual dining sector was a tough environment to operate in and cited the difficulties faced by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's Italian brand, which recently closed 22 branches after going into administration.
Mr Ward said: "With Deliveroo and Uber, everyone wants the convenience of home delivery. They don't want to have to get up and go out anymore, so casual dining is definitely suffering."