It started with a vision of street food, and has now become 36 successful Burger restaurants with their very own prep kitchen and butchers. Honest Burgers is a chain by number, but an independent at heart – Tom and Phil both believe that the feeling you get when you walk into one of their establishments is the most important aspect to keep customers coming back… And unlike a stereotypical chain, will never compromise or take the easy way out.
00:00:00 Marks Introduction
00:02:23 Meeting Tom & Phil, setting the scene in ‘The Fish Bowl’ in Borough
- 00:03:30 Why did they take the office on, and was it expensive?
- 00:05:08 “I think the organisation and standards – they’re everywhere. It shouldn’t just be a shiny front of house and then a terrible back of house.”
00:06:37 What is Honest Burgers?
- 00:07:43 “We’ve got our own butchery; we’ve got our own prep kitchen… I’m just massively bragging now!”
00:07:59 What Hospitality experience had Tom & Phil gained before Honest Burgers?
- 00:08:48 (Tom) “And then actually I met Phil working in the restaurant – it kind of changed my life really, that restaurant. I met my wife there, I met Phil there… who’s more important…. [laughter]”
- 00:09:29 (Phil) “I always found myself in restaurants. My first job when I was seventeen – I worked in Ravenwood Hall, country manor back in Suffolk. Black tie, silver service”
00:12:03 The epiphany on the ski lift…
- 00:13:58 (Phil) “So I called up the agency and said look, I can’t do this one but keep me in mind for the next one… Of course, never heard from them again. And that kind of began my spiral out of journalism and into restaurants.”
00:15:52 How it started… as a street food business.
- 00:17:49 “I went back there and it was carnage, and the only thing that was standing was our marquee… That’s what happens when you spend two and a half grand on a marquee!!”
- 00:20:44 “We did Brighton food festival, that was good actually. Two days there, we actually made some good money – and we always got good feedback.”
- 00:22:34 “The best thing about a burger should be the meat in our opinion. Not necessarily everything that goes on top of it.”
00:25:23 Did the name Honest Burgers stick from the start?
00:25:41 How did the street food business turn into a restaurant?
- 00:28:45 “I remember driving back to Brighton after meeting him for the first time, and I remember us late at night being like… Holy ****, this might happen – we could open a restaurant.”
- 00:31:50 “The burgers looked awful. But we thought they were amazing – they had a focaccia bun, dunno where that came from… Then there was a pile of cheese crumbling inside, a bit of streaky bacon…”
- 00:35:46 “At that stage there was a good two months where it wasn’t gonna happen. Because we were like, we don’t have any money. How are we going to open a restaurant with seven and a half grand?”
00:36:28 Something had to happen… The period of not knowing whether a restaurant was going to open or not
00:38:00 Opening a restaurant with £7k, and the opening night
- 00:40:16 “There’s that kind of perfect storm of burgers being super cool and trendy, Brixton market being edgy that sends people in London on a spin…and we served a really great burger and chips.”
- 00:41:36 “We were hand making and hand cutting potatoes out of a bag, boiling them, cooling them, frying them, cooling them, bagging them, serving them for the day. Run out, start again the next day, every day… That was the biggest test of our sanity.”
- 00:44:01 “I don’t want any one of those things to be available everywhere. That frozen chip that you get that everyone has had many times is available in a million restaurants around the world… we don’t want to be part of that club.”
00:47:17 The refusal to compromise and how it’s kept Honest Burgers at a high quality
- 00:48:27 “I know if today we put a frozen chip on the menu, I would hope we would lose every single one of our head chefs, every single one of our managers… I would really hope they would walk out the door straight away and I’d follow them. You can’t go back on stuff like that.”
00:49:14 Opening a second restaurant – how and when did it happen?
- 00:50:55 “Dor (Dorian) going into Soho was a big step to raise proper money, I think our restaurant cost up about 200 grand.”
- 00:51:35 “I would go up on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night and just demolish as much as I could before the builders came in. so it was ripping up tiles, I cut a walk-in fridge in half and nearly cut my leg off…”
00:54:39 How quickly did Honest Burgers continue to expand?
00:56:12 When did the butchery and centralised kitchens become part of Honest Burgers?
- 00:58:00 “Every single penny we spent was on the restaurant, and it wasn’t on anything else. We knew the prep kitchen was important, but we didn’t invest in it like we should have done.”
00:58:50 Tom Gaffa taping bread rolls to his body…
- 01:00:47 “I didn’t consider how I was going to put 200 buns on my back at that point… but I was like: I’m going there. I’m sorting it out.”
01:03:30 Opening a butchery, and why did they do this themselves>
- 01:03:47 “Theres a few things we need to protect in the business. One is medium-rare burgers – a big big deal for us. A real marker of quality.”
- 01:06:12 “We chop our meat; we don’t mince it. Because effectively mincing something is just squashing something through a small plate at high pressure which is terrible for the cell structure and denatures the texture… Most minced burgers are minced two or three times to get the fat content.”
01:07:19 The current rules & regulations surrounding making burgers
- 01:09:21 “Sometimes we are willing to try a bit harder.”
01:09:41 Getting investment to help push the business, 9 sites later
- 01:14:21 “We’ve been really smart, really proud of our property strategy over the last year or so. We’ve not gone to any of these, particularly out of London, we’ve not gone and highly leveraged ourselves against big hard box, high rent sites…”
- 01:15:18 “Not trying to pretend we’re not one, we are one, but we don’t have to act like one. And that’s how we feel.” (Talking about chain restaurants)
01:15:51 How Honest Burgers ensure they don’t become a stereotypical chain
- 01:18:56 “I’d rather someone hated us than thought nothing of us. I’d rather someone give us a 1 out of 5 review than a 3 out of 5.”
01:20:47 Human to Human connections in hospitality, stories behind the local burger
01:26:38 Companies giving their opinion, politically or not… No one cares!
01:28:26 What’s next for Honest Burgers? The future
- 01:28:59 (Tom) “For me, it’s a hard one to answer because we are just going to keep going. We’ve got things we are investing in, investing our people is something that we feel we haven’t done as much…”
01:30:22 Veganism and plant burgers discussion
01:32:15 What brings Tom the most pleasure in his job now?
- 01:32:49 “I get a kick out of people. So I love being around the staff, this is why I gravitate to the hands-on role.”
- 01:34:07 “As an industry, we are letting ourselves down at the moment and I’m pissed off about it. We are not good employers as an industry. We expect too many hours for low pay, traditionally deemed as low skilled which I wildly disagree with.”
01:43:20 Where can you go to find out more about the Honest Burgers story?
01:44:30 Marks final thoughts & sign off
If you’d like to learn more about Honest Burgers, where to find your nearest one or more about Tom and Phil’s journey… Check out their website and social channels below… Or, listen to the full episode here.