Sumo Salad co-founder Luke Baylis was 50 kilograms heavier 10 years ago. Business Insider asked him for a photo – he said he had ripped them all up.
At the time – in the early 2000s – Baylis and his late co-founder James Miller were living in New York and working for a telecommunications company.
“While we were over there, I put on 50kg over a four-year period,” Baylis said. “A lot of that [weight gain] came down to easily accessible food, big portions and busy careers.”
The Sydneysider didn’t notice his weight gain initially, but when friends and family began to point it out, he became concerned.
“People who are close to you say you are fat, and the penny drops. My mate started calling me a Teletubby, and that wasn’t really a name I wanted to be called.”
Baylis said the duo tried to eat more healthily, but found that their options were limited.
US portions were “five times the size of what you get in Australia”, Baylis said, and salads were made with high-calorie ingredients like range dressing, fried chicken and blue cheese.
“There was one place that had just started up [in New York]. It was a soup kitchen and in the summer months, had salad,” Baylis recalled.
“We ate there and started playing around with ideas based on the beautiful produce we get in Australia.”
Six months after they started dieting, Baylis and Miller moved back in Australia and started Sumo Salad.
Baylis – who studied to be a chef before he worked in IT – said the duo ate Sumo Salad products for three meals a day, for two years.
He returned to his pre-US weight by the end of that time. “80% was diet; 20% was exercise,” he said.
Now, almost a decade later, Baylis credits his name-calling mate and his wife for pushing him to start Sumo Salad – a chain of 102 stores that will expand into Sao Paulo, Brazil, and West Hollywood and Santa Monica in the US early next year.
“There’s a lot of demand for healthy products out there,” he said. “In South America, people are very body conscious. The diet is lots of meat and there’s not a lot of competition for us.
“In the US there are competitive businesses like Freshii, Chopt and SaladWorks [but] our variety is much greater, quality, branding and marketing opportunities are better. Americans love the Aussies.”
As with Sumo Salad’s existing franchises in the UK, Singapore, New Zealand and Dubai, the company has appointed local operators to manage the brand in the Americas. It retains the option to buy a minority share in the overseas businesses.
Baylis owns 40% of Sumo Salad brand after selling 60% to the Maloney family’s investment firm the Tulla Group in December. Miller, who passed away in January, has not had an active role in Sumo Salad for some time.
Looking forward, Baylis said the company had not ruled out an IPO but did not need additional capital in the immediate future.
The company is now pursuing closer links with fitness and weight loss programs, including having 16 salads newly admitted into Weight Watchers’ points program.
While the co-founders “always had aspirations to go back to the States”, Baylis said he now sees India and China as the most exciting growth opportunities.
“We’re already in Singapore and there’s a lot of interest to expand,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity throughout Asia for our brand. It’s a huge growth market, with a growing middle class.”
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