Slim's could expand to Scotland in lucrative gym deal
Homegrown fast food chain Slim's Healthy Kitchen could expand into Scotland in partnership with DW Fitness Clubs, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Slim's founder, Gary McIldowney, said he was in talks with the UK chain about taking over seven of its gym food outlets in Scotland, after opening up in four DW gyms around the province.
Mr McIldowney added that employment at Slim's had now reached 150, with 25 staff recruited to work in its units in DW gyms at Boucher Road in Belfast, Bangor, Newtownabbey and Londonderry.
The opening of the gym stores represented a total investment of around £100,000.
Mr McIldowney said: "It's not the biggest outlay, but it is important for brand recognition."
But the entrepreneur added that he had recently shut down a pop-up salad store on Lisburn Road, which had operated for five months.
The store prepared salads for delivery at lunchtime to offices around the area.
Mr McIldowney said: "It was a lease we held already, so it enabled us to open with minimal exposure.
"We found the location just didn't work for us, but we are looking at opening something similar again in the city centre."
His business now operates on Lisburn Road and Belmont Road in Belfast, Victoria Square in the city centre, Dundonald, Bangor, and at the DW gyms.
Mr McIldowney said DW Fitness Clubs had first operated their own food and drink concessions in gyms around Northern Ireland before approaching other coffee shop operators.
The chain then approached him with a view to opening Slim's Kitchen Express units inside their gyms.
"I then went to meet them in Wigan, where they are based, to take discussions further," he explained. "At the minute, we are talking about opening up Slim's in their seven gyms in Scotland, which would be a major expansion and our first outside Northern Ireland."
Mr McIldowney opened the first Slim's on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast in July 2013, describing how a healthy diet had helped him lose half his body weight as he slimmed down from 24 stone.
Much of its menu focuses on dishes featuring so-called superfoods like avocado, kale and sweet potatoes - many of which have been made popular by food writers like Ella Woodward and the Helmsley sisters, who extol the benefits of avoiding preservatives, gluten and sugar through 'clean' eating.
However, Mr McIldowney admitted his own weight was currently "yo-yoing". He said: "My main problem now is not getting enough time to train as I have two young children and it's just hard to fit in."
The DW Fitness Club brand was founded by former professional footballer Dave Whelan after he bought over 50 former JJB Sports gyms in 2009.
A number of other cafes and restaurants have opened in the last 18 months with a focus on clean eating, including Raw Food Rebellion and Tony and Jen's, both on Lisburn Road, as well as Goodness Rocks on the city's Saintfield Road.