Using British Produce to Create Great Burgers

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Honest Burgers is the brainchild of entrepreneurs Tom Barton and Phil Eles who take inspiration from great British produce to create some of the best burgers around. The boys have certainly come a long way since their humble beginnings in Brighton, armed with only a fryer, griddle and marquee.

Honest burger restaurant founder in apron

After starting out in Brixton Village Market, where punters first got an appetite for their handmade no frills burgers, they now have five restaurants across London; Brixton, Soho, Kings Cross, Camden and Portobello and have received rave reviews from food critics.

We talk to one half of the Honest team, Tom, who shares his journey from burger flipper to restaurateur as well as some invaluable advice.

Who/what inspired you to set up Honest Burgers?

Honest Burgers started off as an idea between myself and Phil Eles whilst having a few beers in Brighton. I was working in a restaurant at the time and Phil approached me as he thought together, with our hard working ethos, we would make a good team.

Soon afterwards we bought ourselves a small marquee, griddle and fryer and Honest Burgers was born!

Originally, we wanted to travel around cooking for the festival market but the pitches were extremely expensive. We soon got a taste for the business though from doing various events such as weddings and things went from there…

How do your locations influence your business?

Our locations have been crucial to our business, especially Brixton – it really put us on the map. We were able to serve our simple, honest burgers in the fashionable Brixton food market where people were excited to try our burgers at reasonable prices. Brixton gave us the foothold in the market we needed and really catapulted us to where we are today.

What is your unique selling point? What makes your brand stand out in such a competitive market?

Our focus is on British produce and a simple menu. We only use the freshest ingredients and the best British beef which is reflected in our mission statement; we are open about where our produce comes from as well as the amount people should have to pay.

How do you react to the changing marketplace?

I think the burger industry is going from strength to strength at the moment and people have often asked, “do you think the burger boom is going to burst?” but no, I don’t think so. Yes there are a lot of burger restaurants out there – a reaction to consumer demand for genuine, quality food. Ultimately, only the very best will survive which is why we strive to make sure every burger served is of the highest quality.

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing foodservice businesses like yourselves today?

The rising prices of food – I think everyone is bracing themselves for what is going to happen in the coming years.

Also the cost of rent, which in London is forever increasing. London is saturated with successful casual dining restaurants who will pay whatever it takes to get where they want to be which makes it more difficult for others to get sites in sought after locations. That being said, we would love to expand and explore London further.

As a business, what are you doing to overcome this challenge?

At the moment we are continuing as we are and will expand when it’s right. Sometimes when other restaurants expand the quality of service and food can drop but that’s not something we are going to let happen. Our customers will always come first and so we want to be able to provide a burger that is good value for money whilst maintaining our ethos of high quality produce and consistency.

What is the biggest business mistake you’ve made and what key learning did you take from it to make your business better?

There have been many over the past few years so the key learning we’ve taken away would be…to learn from your mistakes and never make the same one twice.

At the beginning we were quite inexperienced in the market and we were lucky enough to have a great mentor in Dorian Waite to guide us. He has been so integral to our work and helped us get to where we are today.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

It has to be from my Grandpa who said: the harder you work the luckier you get. He has been a real inspiration to me as set up his own business in the 1940s, although it involved trains and not burgers! I think anyone’s success is always in part down to luck but you always have to work hard and can never rely on luck alone.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to other chefs/entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the industry?

Just get on and do it. So many people are afraid of failure but if you believe in what you’re doing and your product then go for it. I am so grateful to be where I am today and I think it’s best to live life without regrets.

What’s the best thing about your job?

That no day is ever the same. I hate repetition and in this job I deal with all sorts each and every day, good or bad. I love working with all our team and have a close friendship with all our staff.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

Hopefully still in the restaurant industry because there is nothing quite like it and I have met some brilliant and very talented individuals.

What’s your signature dish?

Sunday roast – slow roasted pork with a Yorkshire pud.

When you get the chance, where do you enjoy eating out?

Barrafina, a Spanish Tapas restaurant in Soho which consistently serves up some of the best food around.

What would be your dream meal? (starter, main and dessert)

I would love to go to Japan and try different variations of sushi and sashimi so that would be my starter and main. I’m not really a pudding man so I’d just have two mains!

What’s the one piece of kitchen equipment you couldn’t live without?

A blender because I do love a good smoothie.