Magazine article Marketing


Magazine article Marketing


Article excerpt

The small, influential 'naturally fast food' restaurant chain has a popular recipe-book line and global ambitions.

In the fast-food-crammed UK, it's hard to think of a gap that has not yet been exploited. However, the 2004 launch of Leon was an attempt to prove that there was a market for more natural, yet still 'fast', food that was tasty rather than simply worthy.

Founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent hit on the idea after they tired of the standard of motorway food available on trips to client meetings. The former management consultants wanted to tweak the fast-food model to include tasty, healthy ingredients served enthusiastically.

Leon eschews hair-shirt notions of healthy eating for a 'good life' approach. The founders reasoned that stuff that is good for you could be tasty, too. Rather than adopting a sniffy approach to traditional fast-food offerings, they explored what it is that such restaurants get right by signing on to work for Burger King. This up-close experience gave them insight into the processes behind successful quick-service restaurants that they transferred to Leon.

Dimbleby roped in a family friend, chef Allegra McEvedy, as part of the founding team in 2003 and they opened the first restaurant, in Carnaby Street, the next year.

The restaurant shares its name with Vincent's father, a moniker chosen because it was simple, European-sounding and came with no ready-made associations. The company has ambitions to grow into a global brand.

It certainly got off to a good start. Within six months of opening, Leon was named the best new restaurant in Britain at the Observer Food Monthly awards. After a year, it had launched its second restaurant at Ludgate Circus. From the start, the proposition has been to serve naturally fast food. Complex items, such as the bestselling meatballs, are cooked in a central kitchen, but other items such as salads and wraps are assembled in the restaurants.

Attention to detail is key: its meat is from RSPCA-approved farms, there is a focus on low-GI dishes and seasonality is a given. The restaurant is a founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

The non-corporate design and feel of the Leon brand are a reflection of the founders' vision helped along by various designers and artists. The aim is to create a continental, fun, bright feel, with each design site-specific.

With 13 restaurants, the chain remains London-centric with one outlier at Bluewater in Kent. There are plans for about three new sites this year, and it is exploring franchising. Last year it issued a 'Leon Bond' to raise up to pounds 1.5m in the absence of bank lending. Its decision to enlist former Burger King chief executive Brad Blum as an adviser in 2012 underlined its aspirations. …

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