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  • Writer's pictureTharindu Ameresekere

The story behind the menu : Calorie Counter

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

(Kathya Fernando & team Business Lounge explores the story of one man's journey towards a healthier life and his message to the nation)

Calorie Counter Sri Lanka’s first restaurant that serves healthy calorie counted cuisine is in the industry for all the entire right reasons .They offer a wide range of healthy delicious alternatives to fast food ranging from salads to wraps, from breakfast options to mains, from protein shakes to desserts. Here’s the inside story on Calorie Counter and Mr. Duaine sharing his journey with us.

1) What is the story behind Calorie Counter?

Calorie Counter was built because of my personal journey. This personal journey started when I was about 135 kg, waist size 46 and shirt size 18. I then realised that if I were to go on this unhealthy path it would not end for me that well. I knew that these were indications of been unhealthy and that I was more prone to becoming a diabetic or a cholesterol patient. So I began to change my lifestyle. I started hitting the gym like how a normal person would do. After a year I found out that working out in the gym did not give me enough results that I would have liked to. I was simply losing the 2 kgs and 3 kgs here and there and gaining it back at the same time. Then I started researching to find out the science behind a healthy lifestyle. Size was one motivator for me but my goal was to become a healthier person. When I was researching I found out that food plays a major role in becoming healthy. Once I understood that I started practising it, 2 years later losing 45 kg in my journey and thus Calorie Counter was born.

2) Most people have a false belief that healthy food can rarely be tasty. How has Calorie Counter being able to prove them wrong?

I myself am a great foodie and I wouldn’t eat anything if it was not tasty. So when I was trying to get into a healthy life style I would go looking for places to eat. For instance if someone sold a brown bread sandwich the only healthy thing in it would be the brown bread because other than that it would be filled with loads of mayonnaise and fattening produce. Because of this I had to go back to my home kitchen and cook my own meals and this was a passion I had as well. Whenever I was cooking at home I made sure it was healthy but tasty as well. With the Sri Lankan spices and right marination the food will always taste great. When I started Calorie Counter my main focus was to prepare healthy food that was tasty and looks good at the same time. This was exactly what I told my executive chef and what we deliver to our customers. It looks and tastes delicious and healthy as well. I would say Calorie Counter to date is the only restaurant chain where one does not have to choose between healthy eating and great taste. This is what makes us different.

3) The journey as an entrepreneur would not have been easy. What would you like to say to budding entrepreneurs?

I believe in any journey there are more negatives than positives and what makes you better is how you handle the negatives. Be it a lady or a gent if you don’t have the strength within yourself to handle the tough times and steer ship in the tough seas, then business is not for you. It could vary from financial, human, strategic or even technological issues. Business is a day in day out fight. I believe that being a successful entrepreneur is giving that good fight. There’s not a day in an entrepreneur’s life that you are not fighting. Somewhere down the line you are fighting for more market share, more revenue, for your brand to be noticed and your brand to be published. If a person says I am having an easy life as an entrepreneur I would say he’s lying and that he doesn’t know what he is doing.

I started Calorie Counter by putting in most of my savings and it was only a backyard project back then. We were the first movers into this market so there weren’t any case studies to understand how this type of a business would do. Even in other parts of the world I don’t see a full fledged product range like this in a restaurant. Our main focus is health and our only focus is also health. We don’t have a salad on one side of the counter and an unhealthy burger on the other so that we could attract customers. With the overwhelming customer base and appreciation we started receiving we were able to understand that this was a need that most people required even more than us. Our life was all about conversion. Converting people having a normal diet to choose healthy food. So my market share was not only the gym crowd but it was to everyone out there who goes and eats at every restaurant and doesn’t think twice before ordering. People then saw this concept as one that could be replicated.

4) What are Calorie Counter’s plans for the future?

We opened our first local franchise in Galle .The franchising concept came into play because I believe to run a restaurant you need to have it in arm’s length and right under your nose. When we understood what the customers required we perfected our processes so that it could be replicated. We have now prepared a system for even someone who is foreign to our concept to take up this brand and run it since we’ve done all the homework on behalf of them. Once the first franchise was born we then got foreign invites and was able to open our first overseas franchise in Kuwait and very recently opened our second overseas franchise in Maldives. Calorie Counter’s dreams and aspirations are to be at least in 10 Asian countries by 2020 and we want to go global and venture into other countries beyond Asia and Middle East by 2025.

5) What do you think lies behind people not embracing a healthy life style and how could we raise awareness on this matter?

If at all people are not health conscious that is due to lack of information. The misunderstanding is that a healthy person means that you are in the gym 5 hours a week and eats healthy food alone. If you put that hard work in the gym, eat 70 % of healthy food, go and have a burger on one day you can still be healthy. Doing the right thing most of the time puts you in the right path but doing the wrong thing most of the time puts you in the wrong path.

In most of our promotions and engagements to build Calorie Counter we get involved with people who give the right information. Recently we partnered up in an event where the Olympic swimmer who is the current backstroke world record keeper came down. Here we wanted him to share with the trainee kids and others how important nutrition had been for his performance. Later we provided the food for the event and showed that the healthy diet after all is not just plain bland food and the kids loved it.

In our process of growing we don’t push our products instead we want people to understand that healthy eating is something they should pursue. And when they look around there we are established driving people towards us. A person coming here should know that after having their meals they are going to walk out as a healthier person and they’ve dodged a bullet by eating the right food and not the wrong food.

6) Any words about your team you would like to share with us?

We have employees of all religions working with us. Every religion says us to do good deeds and the good deed we do is creating a healthy person for a better tomorrow. This is the motivation we give our staff. We aren’t frying nor using the same oil over and over again. Every ingredient that is put into our meals is well picked with care assuring the quality of our final output. Nowadays it is hard to find young energetic staff but by God’s grace we are blessed with it. In Sri Lanka it isn’t quite easy to employ people to work at a restaurant because of the idea that behind a counter or put in a kitchen is classified as a low grade job. However that concept is gradually beginning to change when all around the world chefs are paid one of the highest salaries.

This is a very satisfying job that involves human emotions. You see satisfied customers and get recognition then and there. I believe that because we do very good products the number of complaints we get are very minimum which helps our staff to do better.

It’s an overall team effort beginning from our executive chefs, managers, office accountant to the store keepers who plays a significant role that defines us who we are today.

7) Will we see Duaine Peiris having a burger on a Sunday afternoon? How is the experience of making yourself the face of the brand?

Yes you might see Duaine Peiris having an unhealthy burger on a weekend. To live a good life you need to be balanced and aware of your boundaries. For instance if I have an unhealthy burger on one day for one meal of the week I make sure that the rest of the 80% of the meals I have are healthy and I should not abuse that. I don’t want anyone to think this is hard to do ,no it is not. When you make it a part of your life style it becomes easier .You can start with small things like refraining from buying oversized clothes or loosening your belt because that is not where you want to be. There are times when you can put on weight .I have a 1 to 1.3 body type where I can lose 10kgs or even gain 13kgs. I am proud to be the face of Calorie Counter because more than products it is stories that sell(Points out to the board with his story)that is why I have that board there with the details of my transformation. I want people to know that this is possible. If I was able to change my life style and is continuing to do so then I am sure that people would start believing that they could do the same too.

8) Any final words?

It is a must for everyone to be motivated in whatever they do because it directly attributes in the results. It is key to have short term goals and long term goals. When I was losing my short term goals where I had a wedding the next day, had to travel overseas next month or had a vacation to go on. You should always give yourself a reason to be healthy. Doing the right thing is not easy but when you train yourself, believe in yourself and have control of you it seems more than possible.

Eat Healthy, Stay Healthy…

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