Friday, February 23, 2024

Local gym owner’s unconventional journey leads to successful franchise

Jesse James Leyva hadn’t been in his new Outlaw FitCamp by Jesse James facility in Flower Mound for more than a few hours when friend and business partner Kay Simms strolled into his office and placed a familiar piece of paper on his desk. It was an old “going out of business” letter to Leyva’s customers from his previous gym, Texas Sports Club, 15 years ago.

For the life of him, Leyva couldn’t figure out why Simms would hang onto something like that for so long. It certainly wasn’t to dredge up bad memories, though. Instead, it was a poignant reminder of where they’d been and how far they’d come.

“We moved into our current Lakeside location on November 10th. She brought this letter to me, hugged me, and said, ‘Can you believe this? This is 15 years to the day that we closed that gym,’” Leyva recounted as he pointed to the date on the letter. “My reaction was a lot of tears. I lost everything to that beast of a gym — my car, house, marriage. I remember us standing in the parking lot all day starting at 5 a.m., hugging our clients as we said goodbye. It hurt all of us. Everyone was crying.”

He added, “I’m big on always looking forward, so I had blocked a lot of that out until I saw this letter.”

Jesse James Leyva at his new Outlaw FitCamp in Flower Mound. (Photo by Lynn Seeden/Seeden Photography)

Leyva says the journey to where he, Simms, his wife, Tiffany, and the rest of his Outlaw FitCamp team are today is enough fodder to write the next great American novel. At a minimum, it’s a story of hope and perseverance any small-business owner who has faced seemingly insurmountable struggles can learn from and be inspired by. Within five days of closing that gym in 2007, Leyva rented 1,000 square feet of space off Cross Timbers Road and named it Jesse James Fit. He focused solely on personal training and fostering an atmosphere of inclusiveness, respect, and good old-fashioned hard work.

As time went by and word spread of a better workout, they continued leasing more space and grew it to 7,700 square feet. He got remarried, bought a house, and reclaimed the life he once had. In between all of that, in 2014 came his Outlaw FitCamp group fitness model. A location opened in Little Elm, then others in McKinney and Hickory Creek. In 2018, the franchise launched, and today, Outlaw FitCamp by Jesse James in Flower Mound is his signature location and Outlaw FitCamp franchise headquarters. There are seven franchise locations, including Hickory Creek, Plano, Keller, Fort Worth, McKinney, Little Elm, and their Flower Mound headquarters at 811 International Parkway.

And there are already plans to expand the franchise concept nationwide.

“It’s been a long road, and none of it was easy. But I’m proud. It’s a book — I’m telling you,” Leyva said with a laugh.

It’s also a revolution the likes of which the fitness industry has never seen, and most of that is because of the culture they’ve created. People come for the workouts and get a family atmosphere where progress is the name of the game — not perfection. Trainers are encouraging and motivational rather than being focused on numbers and the mighty dollar. And members wake up each day looking at life differently.

For 15 years, Leyva’s model has constantly evolved but stayed true to his goal of being different from the big-box fitness centers that surround him. A former bodybuilder who was named Mr. Texas in 2010, Leyva envisioned a safe environment dedicated to making lasting changes, and his individualized training approach has only grown in popularity.

When combined with the group fitness concept, client results are limitless.

With group fitness, each participant has their own “cell” or space to work out. And there’s no need to worry about having to fetch different equipment, as everything you need is right there in your cell. Before each class, the trainers demonstrate different exercises designed to provide a 30-minute functional interval training routine. And as the class continues, trainers ensure everyone maintains good form, pushes themselves, and transitions properly between rounds.

Operations director Deidre Butler said there’s zero chance that an Outlaw FitCamp workout will become boring.

“With the vibe of great music, things get moving pretty quickly,” Butler said. “There are 10 people in each class, so members don’t get lost in the crowd, and the trainer’s job is to make sure you’re doing the exercises safely. But they’re also there to challenge you and lead members through a fun, fat-blasting, muscle-building workout. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s as intense as you want it to be. It’s suited for all ages and fitness levels.”

If a client needs extra accountability and a detailed plan, personal training is merely a few feet away. Outlaw FitCamp trainers are there to help you reach your best in fitness with one-on-one, small group, and couples training.

“I wanted to reach more people with what we were doing in fitness and share our passion with others,” Leyva said. “In 2014, we opened Little Elm, then McKinney and Hickory Creek. In 2019, Plano and Keller opened within a week of each other, and then Fort Worth in 2021. All the while, we’ve learned to evaluate and constantly look at ways to better serve our members. We still live by that now.”

As for that old “going out of business” letter, Leyva says he may keep it around a bit longer.

“I may frame it as a reminder,” he said. “Had I not gone through all of that turmoil, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

For franchise information, visit or

(Sponsored content)

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