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The healthiest of starts

February 27th, 2017 | by LCN Editor
The healthiest of starts
Venue Spotlight

Jenny Curran and her partner, Tony O’Neill have turned their shared obsession with the virtues of a truly healthy lifestyle into a thriving hospitality business in Belfast that they hope will eventually become an international brand.


If there’s one thing that comes across more than any other in conversation with Jenny Curran, it’s her passion for everything that constitutes a truly healthy way of life.

Yet there’s more to it than that. Jenny and fiancé, Tony O’Neill, believe that following a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be tedious or cost a small fortune and with that ethos in mind, they’ve opened a health food restaurant and bakery on the Lisburn Road which, they feel, offers a fresh approach to cleaner living.

Tony and Jen’s is all about the food, but it’s not the typical fare you might expect to find in a venue dedicated to improving your diet.

Here, the menu is brimful of the traditional food that you might expect to find in a conventional coffee shop anywhere in the country – everything from waffles and stew to brownies, donuts and pancakes – but all of it’s been reimagined to be healthy and just as enticing as the originals.

Jenny (29), and Tony (33) are both self-confessed “health food numpties” and Tony and Jen’s, which opened in 2015, is the result of their shared food philosophy:

“We’re coming at this in a really innovative way,” says Jenny, a former model and journalist who met Tony, a personal trainer, while she was researching a story on body-building. “We’re implementing things and trends in here in the shop that are still up-and-coming, things that lots of people in NI may not even have heard of yet.

“We poach our eggs in apple cider vinegar because of its probiotic properties, we cook all our food in coconut oil, lots of little things like that because it’s all part of our own ethos, it’s what we’re about”, says Jenny, “and we’re not going to veer away from that.”

Tony and Jenny met around five years ago and opened the Lisburn Road shop following a working trip to Australia during which they were given a brand new perspective on lifestyle:

“Our whole world was influenced by the health culture that we saw over there,” reveals Jenny, a qualified fitness nutritionist. “Much of it was a fair bit ahead of what was available back at home. Even in the supermarkets, they had things that we’re only starting to get in NI now and what we’re doing with our shop now is very much a result of what we saw and did when we lived in Australia.”

The restaurant itself is best described as ‘industrial chic’. Offering seating for around 66 diners at capacity, the venue is light and airy with a focus on exposed brickwork and rough-and-ready wooden flooring.

The premises was formerly home to a boutique and Tony and Jenny cut the costs of refurbishment by taking on much of the work themselves with plenty of help from family members.

“In the end, we’ve ended up with exactly the sort of venue that we set out to create,” says Jenny. “We wanted a place that would appeal to everybody regardless of age, gender or ethnicity and we wanted to encourage people to value their health by eating products that are healthy and affordable.”

Tony O’Neill with partner, Jenny Curran,

And health is the dominant theme throughout. Customers can pick from potato bread waffles, made with sweet potato; courgette noodles, cauliflower rice, seasonal soup and salads or protein balls.

By her own admission, Jenny is a “bakery nut” and her sister, Katie, is employed as in-house baker at the restaurant, producing a daily diet of baked goods and treats, all with a strict eye on the health benefits.

Her other sister, Emma, is employed as front-of-house manager and barista. Emma lived for a time in Australia as well and she brought a lot of what she learned there about good food and coffee back home and put it into practice at Tony and Jen’s.

“Our business is constantly growing,” says Jenny. “We don’t come from hospitality backgrounds do we had no idea where to start, so I think we probably weren’t growing too much at the beginning, but things have picked up a lot since that.

“We get a lot of mums and kids in, we have a big space that lends itself well to that, and we get a lot of older people, which I felt was really surprising. In the evenings, we get a lot of young, professional-type customers, which is really the group that we thought we would attract most of at the start.”

Much of the business at Tony and Jen’s is driven via social media and there are plenty of in-store promotions, including a gingerbread man hunt at Christmas time just passed:

“I do think that we’re unique,” remarks Jenny. “We do get compared to other places and there are similar venues, but we’re coming at this in a really innovative way…what we do might be a little more expensive than it would be otherwise but it’s part of our ethos, it’s what we’re about and were not going to veer away from that. We really want to put things out there that are good quality and good for people but that won’t cost them the earth.”

In the short term, the couple are happy continuing to build the Belfast business:

“We’re really happy with the way that things are progressing and as long as we can keep the doors open and keep bringing people in, then that’s all we want for now,” says Jenny.

Beyond that, however, they do have their eye on some impressive expansion plans:

“I think that ultimately, we’d like to look at extending the brand into other countries as well. We have a friend in Australia for example, who would like to open up there,” says Jenny. “I don’t think that’s an unrealistic aspiration. At the moment, we are working and growing the business here and when we’re totally happy with that, we can look at other things. But we’re very happy with what we have for now.”


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