After battling his way through cancer while raising two boys, Damian Lee became fixated on healthy eating. He also had a penchant for cup noodles so decided to invent healthy, fast-food style noodles – and Mr Lee’s was born. Here, he talks fatherhood and innovating in business…
Damien Lee, founder and CEO of Mr Lee’s Noodles Company, is a single dad of two boys, James and Josh. They live together in Bournemouth, Dorset
I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. Following stints in Australia, Sweden and Nigeria, my business took me to the UK – where I was living fast (in London) and not looking after my diet. Looking for a change, I moved to Bournemouth and whilst in the thick of my new business ‘Designed Gadgets’ I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Being told you have late stage 4 cancer is mind-blowing, but I was determined to survive, and this is where I began to strip my diet of all the nasties, particular nasty cup noodles that I would go on to crave during my recovery.
Once I was recovered from the cancer, I began to focus on my new raw eating lifestyle. It was this, mixed with my longing for cup noodles, that helped me to come up with the idea of creating a completely healthy cup noodle that wouldn’t put nasty chemicals in my body.
Mr Lee’s has been well received
The feedback, since producing for nearly a year, has been extremely positive. We find that a number of communities from gluten-free crowds, those with allergies, busy/working parents, professionals and students see our noodles as the perfect mealtime alternative that is quick to prepare and truly good for you. Our six flavours have been positively received, moving us in the right direction towards a range of new flavours and products (including vegan options), and our first Noodle Kiosk vending machine has completed trial at Bournemouth University with an overwhelming amount of student satisfaction.
With diabetes, coeliac disease and other dietary related conditions on the rise, healthy food-on-the-go is needed now more than ever, especially with our sector growing 10% per annum in junk products. This is why we have chosen to use only natural, freeze-dried ingredients in our noodles, so as to not take shortcuts that would compromise the integrity of our products. With anything up to 8g of freeze-dried per cup, our alternative ready meals are an ideal lunch options for many different demographics, looking to stay healthy and fit on the go. This extends to our Noodle Kiosks, digital, innovative vending machines that are going to be available in a number of locations 24/7 out of regular dining hours.
Trying to be cutting edge and innovative is not without its challenges. We’ve found that there are poor industry and consumer expectations from both cup noodles and vending, as these industries are typically loaded with high in salt and sugar products, whilst being associated as lazy snack/meal time options. This is particularly true when looking at vending, as they are often mostly full of sugary snacks, or out of order… Consumers simply don’t trust them! We make sure that at Mr Lee’s, we are creating a product and delivery service that wonn’t be a disservice to its audience.
From our early accomplishments (listing with Compass Group, the leaders in contract catering) to the several awards, government programs and industry acclaim we have received, my team and business have been very fortunate to gain as much industry feedback as we have in such a short time. In terms of awards, we have received a Silver in the Lunch Innovation Challenge Awards, chosen as the Trailblazer at the Food Vision Europe 2017, plus we reached the finals stage of both the Health and Vitality Honours Awards and Amazon Growing Business Awards. We have also been included in the multi-governmental initiative ‘Your Parent Guide’ , and are about to enter the airline and travel industry which is very exciting for us.
On being a single dad to my two sons…
I have two beautiful young boys, James and Josh, who were one of the biggest reasons why I had to fight through my cancer – I really needed to be around to see them grow up. In terms of my work/life balance, I tend to work 24/7 at the moment, which is the life of a hungry entrepreneur. If I’m not in the office making important business deals and supporting my team, I’m at home negotiating with suppliers in Australia, Denmark, China… Though, I still make time for my kids and for long walks in the Purbecks. I tend to work in a ‘controlled chaos” environment – but I’ve definitely adopted a zen-like attitude to manage my day to day.
We hope to continue our healthy eating campaign, and eventually take the product globally, to fight against the growing rise in unhealthy foods. I hope to sustain our initial wins, continuing to operate in the UK, Scandinavia, Germany, and expand into China, Spain, Australia and more. It’s important for the core of the company to remain a ‘Health Brand’ as we continue to grow, expand our product range past noodles, and continue to innovative and evolve our brand.
Visit the website: Mr Lee’s noodles