The hard-working husband and wife duo who own the first Subway® restaurant to open in Northern Ireland

Subway UK & Ireland

Celebrating 25 years of Subway® in Northern Ireland

‘Proud and privileged’ are the first two words used by husband-and-wife team, David and Lillian McClean to describe their feelings at owning what was the first Subway® restaurant to open in Northern Ireland, on Botanic Avenue in Belfast some 25 years ago.

It was Subway® Business Developers, Neil Black and Paul Heyes who first introduced Subway® to the people of Northern Ireland. Since then, the duo, along with Paul’s son, Adam, have been responsible for the growth of the brand in the region. There are now 89 restaurants in Northern Ireland, owned and operated by local people and providing employment for more than 1,300 others.

It was in 2018, that franchise partners, David (aged 49) and Lillian (aged 47) acquired the Botanic Avenue restaurant and their love of the store and indeed Subway® is very much apparent. They have just signed a new 12-year lease for Botanic Avenue.

“Subway® is a fantastic franchise to work for,” says Lillian. “We always recommend it to others considering a franchise business. The support available to franchise partners is second to none. And if you’re willing to work hard, it really pays off.”

No stranger to Subway®, David has worked on store fits for the brand for 15 years and says that gave him the opportunity to see first-hand how good the franchise was. The husband-and-wife team also had experience in the food industry, having owned a fish and chip shop for a number of years so took the plunge and opened their first Subway® restaurant in 2007. They now own two restaurants, Botanic Avenue and Ballyhackamore, both in Belfast.

“It’s tough owning an independent business,” says David. “With franchising, there is so much support with everything, from operations, sales, and marketing to purchasing, leasing and financing. There’s comprehensive training at the start of the franchise journey too. The Subway® business development team is also fantastic, always ready at the end of the phone to answer any questions and help.”

The franchise owner community is strong too, with David and Lillian saying they have many friends who also run a Subway® restaurant and they often meet up. Avoiding shoptalk is always a challenge though!

Hard work and fun on the menu. Day-to-day running of the business is down to Lillian, who says she enjoys nothing more than getting into the restaurant and working alongside her team of Sandwich Artists™. “I love interacting with the customers and enjoying some banter with my staff. We have fun and that creates a great environment for the customers too.”

It’s a formula that is certainly working, with David and Lillian reporting their restaurants are busier than ever, with the best sales recorded on St Patrick’s Day. And the duo says working together is fantastic, with each driving the other on to succeed. The couple’s children have also been drafted in to help in the restaurants over the years.

The customer demographic has changed, according to David and Lillian, with Subway® now appealing to a much wider audience, from primary school age children, students and young people to the older generation. They put this down to the changes Subway® has made to its offering, which now encompasses freshly made Subway® sandwiches, wraps, Submelts®, salads and snacks.

Whilst the pandemic posed challenges – as it did for everyone in the retail industry – David credits the government support and says business is back to pre-pandemic levels thanks to a loyal customer base. Staff too have proven loyal, with three staff members having worked for them for 11 years. Across their two restaurants, David and Lillian employ a team of 20.

Asked the recipe for success, Lillian says hard work and the right location. Something they say Botanic Avenue has in spades. Close to Queens University and the city centre, the restaurant benefits from a high footfall, both during the day and at night, with the store open until 3am.

Talking of the future, it’s evident that Lillian and David are committed to their Subway® restaurants and they say they would be keen to open a third store should the right location become available.

Investing in Subway® was the certainly the right decision for David and Lillian. And for prospective franchise owners, they have this advice: “If you’re willing to work hard and focus on your business then Subway® is a fantastic franchise to work for. We’ve recommended it to
plenty of others over the years. The start-up costs are very competitive, and the support structure is great. We would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Now the largest Quick Service Restaurant brand in the world, Subway® has over 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and is a tried and tested franchise model. Over 70% of all new franchises sold worldwide are to existing Subway® owners, which is testament to the strength of its franchise system.

For development opportunities for prospective franchise partners in Northern Ireland, please contact To find out more about franchising at Subway®, visit

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