Having always demonstrated an entrepreneurial streak, Brian Lee is making light work of his trx and healthy eating ventures
Even as a youngster, Brian Lee had a keen entrepreneurial bent. Aged 10, he carried a business card for his grass-cutting business. At the height of the Celtic Tiger, the school-leaver set up his own property maintenance business; five years ago, he then opened a Dublin convenience store with his business partner Andy Chen. He always had an eye on the new, the next and the now. And when Ireland's newfound health kick happened recently, Brian was at its coalface with more bright business ideas.
"I've always been looking for businesses, and I love training, and I always thought, 'wow, imagine if I could make a business out of that love of training'," he explains. "It doesn't have to make millions, but if it's a business I love, I'll be happy."
As it stands, Brian is certainly in the thick of things with his two latest ventures. Currently, he is the MD – alongside his business partner Steve Doody – of TRX Studios, a suspension-training facility in Fairview. Across Dublin's city centre, his healthy food company Chopped (co-founded with Chen) is doing a roaring trade in its two southside locations.
In a way, it's a perfect storm for the Kilbarrack native: his ventures are coming to fruition just as Irish attitudes to training and wellbeing are on the upswing.
"I'm just back from a holiday in Australia, and their attitude to training is totally different to ours, but I think it's where we will be in 10 years' time," notes Brian. "Irish people are opening their minds and becoming much more health conscious. We're beginning to realise how important nutrition is. Already, smaller gyms and personal trainers are becoming much more popular than before, because people get much more motivation in a one-on-one scenario."
Hence the growing popularity of smaller, bespoke fitness studios like his own TRX facility. "Suspension training is great for flexibility and strength, and your core is engaged in every single exercise," he explains. "There are 700 exercises you can do, and everyone from a beginner or a pensioner to a top athlete can get something from it."
Still, creating a salad-based eatery in a city that's long been raised on breakfast rolls and chicken baps was, by Brian's own admission, something of a gamble. Yet his logic is simple: if he was struggling to find healthy food choices that would complement his fitness regime, others would be, too.
"I put my life savings into making the idea work," he explains. "It's not self-funded, and it's certainly not a multi-million-euro company. But I'm 28, and I have no kids ... what have I got to lose only the money in my pocket?"
The gamble has paid off handsomely at Chopped's two branches: one on Baggot Street, and one within the Energie gym complex at Ballsbridge.
"We went to Baggot Street because a lot of people were crying out for healthy food," says Brian. "There are office workers, sitting at a desk all day, and they know that if they eat healthier and maybe get some exercise in a couple of evenings a week, they're at least halfway to their fitness goals. Over at our Ballsbridge branch, the gym has seen the importance of nutritious food for their clients."
There's an impassioned touch of the Jamie Oliver about Brian's nutrition manifesto, and after his convenience store experiences, he has seen from the inside just how little truly nutritious food there is out there.
"That's really where the great idea came from, seeing all these frozen chicken fillets coming into the store," he explains. "I could see the muck that we were serving up and remember thinking, 'if I wouldn't eat it, why would I expect my customers to?' There was definitely a gap in the market."
When it came to designing the Chopped menu, Andy and Brian called upon Druid chef Rory Morahan. All three were in agreement that flavoursome food that could fit effortlessly into Paleo, 'clean' eating, vegetarian or low GI regimes was a good start. With more than 16 different choices of protein alone, Brian reckons that the meal combinations at Chopped run into the millions.
"From my own training background, I knew that people wouldn't want just chicken, broccoli and brown rice," he says. "We were really determined to make the food tasty."
In his own downtime, Brian certainly practises what he preaches; he is a fitness and nutrition zealot, despite the demands of running his myriad ventures.
On fitting workouts into his hectic schedule, he says: "It's just one per cent of your day. Besides, it gives me more energy to perform in work. People ask us in the gym, 'how do I train when I'm juggling work and family?', and we say that if people are doing half-hour workouts three times a week, it's a great start. Plus, there are so many things you can do in a half-hour.
"I train an hour at a time, six days a week (at TRX), and because of that I can break up the workouts into individual body parts," he reveals. "One day I'll train my chest, or back or legs. I like to do explosive movements and use my body weight. Twice a week, I'll mix it up by doing some Thai boxing."
His diet is sufficiently clean, and varies from week to week depending on whether he wants to lose inches or add muscle mass.
"I keep my meals to palm-sized portions of meat and vegetables and I eat six meals a day, every three hours," he says.
"If I want to increase muscle mass I just increase the portion sizes and make sure to balance the good carbs, proteins and vegetables. I'm also a fan of green tea, and drinking three litres of water a day."
After performing in a fitness/physique show in Belfast as a 'personal goal' last year, Brian has other fitness events now in his crosshairs. Chief among them is the Hell & Back Challenge – dubbed 'Ireland's toughest physical and mental endurance challenge – as well as Focus Ireland's Four Peaks Challenge.
Given Brian's ambitious spirit, plans are of course afoot to expand the Chopped empire, starting with several more outlets across Dublin in the future. Evening trading and a home delivery service are also on the cards.
"People sit in on a Friday or Saturday night watching The X Factor and think nothing of ordering a big pizza," notes Brian. "It's just the way of it, and it's because of how things were when we grew up. Hopefully the next generation will know and care about what goes into their body in a way we were never taught. We all grew up eating the same stuff, but it's only when you get a bit older that you think, 'wow, this stuff really isn't good for me'".
For more information on Chopped see www.chopped.ie. For more information on TRX Studios, see www.trx.ie.