“NO-ONE wants healthy food in Bolton – they’re just interested in bacon sandwiches and pies.”
These are the stinging words that drove Ollie Birchall to prove the doubters wrong and launch a health food brand from a back street garage in the town.
Now, four years later, the 26-year-old entrepreneur has expanded his Nutri Bar empire to a second site in Media City and he plans to keep on growing – while educating people that “healthy can also mean tasty”.
The menu includes a host of breakfast options, protein-packed salads and hot boxes with names such as ‘Piri Piri Powerhouse’ and ‘Seriously Satay’. Wraps, healthy fries and smoothies are also available.
Ollie explained: “We don’t aim it too much at the gym market. We try to sell it as genuinely healthy food – natural ingredients, balanced meals.
“We do hot boxes where you have rice, chicken and veg but we make it more exciting than that – no-one wants a boring lunch.
“There aren’t lots of established healthy eating places but I think there is a growing appetite for them. People are a lot more conscious of what they eat and realise what it does for you in terms of your energy levels.
“It’s not always necessarily about losing weight or looking good, it’s about being able to live your life better and have more energy to do the things you love.”
The Nutri Bar story began in 2014 when Ollie, originally from Chorley, got the idea from his mum to give the business idea a go.
He said: “I was really interested in fitness and nutrition. I was going to the gym twice a day and there was nowhere to get convenient healthy food from.
“So my mum rang me one day and said you never see any healthy food vans and we should set one up. It came about from that.”
The first move was to secure premises, which he found in a former mechanics’ garage in Chorley Street, a mile outside Bolton town centre.
They found a trailer, which went inside, plus some astroturf and a few chairs and tables. It was pretty basic but Nutri Bar soon found a loyal following.
“We opened in 2015 and everyone said to us, ‘No-one wants healthy food in Bolton – everyone wants a bacon sandwich or a pasty. It’s not going to work’,” said Ollie.
“But we just went for it because I thought there must be more people out there who want healthy food that is affordable.
“It was tough at the start, when we were taking £60 a day and waiting for customers, but we learnt on the job – with some faith that there was a demand.
“It gradually got busier and busier and we eventually got to a point where we could do a full refurbishment of the building.
“It meant we could do a lot more hot food and that was when it really took off – people were queuing out of the door.
The Media City branch opened in 2017 after Ollie and his team identified the burgeoning business centre as an ideal location for a second site, and the company now has 18 employees.
A large part of recruitment process comes through their customers.
Ollie added: “Our operations manager was a personal trainer. He used to come in during the morning and we spoke to him quite a bit.
“He said he was looking to get out of PT and he came on board. He really believed in the vision and has massively helped us with it. We’ve got a really strong team that all contribute towards our mutual vision.
“The staff are all into fitness, healthy living and love their food – which helps!”
Nutri Bar has now teamed up with a fellow Bolton business to help office workers keep their energy levels up during their shifts.
Love Energy Savings have come on board and offer Nutri Bar meals in their on-site restaurant The Love Shack at their Manchester Road headquarters.
“Quite a few of their staff came in as customers,” said Ollie. “They approached me and we went from there.
“We adapted how it could work with them and how we could help. We deliver meals and they have gone down really well.”
Love Energy Savings has long prided itself on taking care of its workers, offering free yoga and gym sessions plus free fruit during their shifts.
Phil Foster, CEO of Love Energy Savings, said: “We are serious about the health and wellbeing of our staff as without them we wouldn’t be able to function as a business.
“So when the chance to work with Nutri Bar came along we jumped at it.
“The food they offer is nutritious but also tasty, keeping energy levels up and people happy.”
As for the future, Ollie is looking to keep spreading the word.
He said: “We want to keep on creating meals that people enjoy and eventually expand and have outlets around the country and around the world.
“It’s all about trying to create something we want as people involved in it and then get that out there.”
He added: “The key to setting up your own business is doing something you are interested in.
“I love all sorts of food – Chinese food, pizzas. To eat healthily you don’t want to be having salad all the time, plain chicken and rice. You want to enjoy like if you were having a takeaway.
“That’s our mission – creating food that we want that is also healthy.”