Hong Kong’s latest fitness trend: restaurants inside gyms

Nutrition and exercise are mainstays of good health, inspiring a growing number of Hong Kong gyms to open cafes and restaurants for customers to load up or catch up with friends after a workout

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 5:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 5:33am

The first smell that hits you when you walk into The Warrior Academy is, surprisingly, not the familiar mixture of week-old sweaty socks and dead cow typical of a martial arts and strength training gym.

Instead, your nose is overcome first by the heady aromas of freshly ground coffee, and then the fiery and herbaceous fragrance of Thai food.

The smells come from The Elephas, a coffee and health food bar that leads into the Warrior Academy fitness training facility. Occupying 7,000 sq ft in a building in Sai Ying Pun, the newly opened space founded by former Hong Kong rugby player Ricky Cheuk is the latest in the trend of health and wellness clubs in the city offering on-site cafes.

It makes sense: exercise and diet are the pillars of health. “They go hand in hand,” says Cheuk, who owns several restaurants and Warrior, which has another training facility in North Point. “You work out seriously, and then you need to be fed well.”

The Pure Group, which has seven fitness and eight yoga centres in Hong Kong, was arguably the first in the city to marry fitness and health food in one convenient location when it started nood food in 2013. Pure founder and CEO Colin Grant sees this as the way forward.

“There is a continued growth in Asia for holistic wellness. It’s not just about working out to lose weight or practising yoga to be more flexible anymore, it’s now a complete lifestyle; people recognise the need to look after their bodies inside and out to lead happier and healthier lives,” says Grant. “We believe this is not just a trend, but a fundamental attitude change.”

Laurie Mias, CEO and founder of cold-pressed juicery Mr Green Juice, opened the company’s first retail store within boutique gym Odinson in Sheung Wan earlier this year. “In this busy world, everybody is running after time. Bringing a convenient answer to consumers’ needs by providing healthy products in the right place is a win-win situation.”

Healthy eating aside, a cafe also provides a space for people to mingle. “A place to catch up and relax with friends after a workout or class helps build a community,” says Stephanie Tan, managing director of wellness centre The Kinnet, which has The Restaurant on its premises.

Cheuk had the same community-building goal in mind, hence the name “Elephas”, which represents the herd characteristics of the Asian elephant. He also sees the space as a way of drawing in people who would never step into a gym. “We put the food in the front because it’s not as intimidating to people. Non-members can come in, grab a coffee, grab lunch. For our clients, we see it as a space where people can work out and then chill out; we want to create a community.”

Work out, chill out, blow out: healthy pit stops in Hong Kong gyms

The Elephas’ coffee bar is a collaboration with home-grown Blooms Roastery & Craft Tea and offers healthy baked goods, coffee, tea and smoothies. On a separate counter, the health food bar offers what Cheuk calls "a slim, healthy version of Thai food” that contains no fish sauce or MSG. Menu items include roasted Norwegian salmon with pomelo and grapefruit salad, and crabmeat, mushroom and roasted root vegetable salad dressed with chilli lychee vinaigrette. Everything is made to order, and the kitchen is in full view so you can observe your meal being prepared.

“We’re really serious about the food. I want people to be shocked, ‘Wow, this is in a gym?’” says Cheuk. “When people think of food inside a gym, it’s always pretty negative. Most of the time it is cold and pre-made. I believe we’re one step ahead – we’re really a restaurant.”