Monday 22 September 2014

[Interview] Tom Barton, co-founder of Honest Burgers on philosophy, British burgers and his role

In his trademark jeans and t-shirt, Tom Barton, co-founder of Honest Burgers announces the latest Honest Burgers special to a gathered audience of diners. He's about as unassuming as they come when you look at restaurant owners in London - they tend to either be super talented chefs with some serious financial backing, or ex-bankers/lawyers/accountants who have the cash and want to do something different.
But Tom is neither and yet as co-founder of Honest Burgers, he's now sitting on an estate of seven burger restaurants - some of the most highly rated and popular with burger fans within London and beyond - so I sat down with him (and a beer or two) for the launch of their latest gluten free special - a fantastic Spanish flavoured burger with GF Romanesco, grilled lomo and Spanish cheese - to catch up with him on the Honest story.

How did Honest Burgers begin?

Tom Barton: Phil (Tom's co-founder at Honest Burgers) had been working together in restaurants for a few years and were getting pretty disillusioned with it. We worked well together and we'd talked about setting something up, so we pooled our money together and bought a marquee, grill and a fryer and started serving burgers at events. My granddad had always said "the harder you work, the luckier you get" and I'd say at Honest we've been pretty lucky. Opening on the eve of London's big burger boom didn't hurt us, either.

Why Brixton Market first?

I was working for Giraffe on South Bank at the time, a genuinely dire experience, and heard the unit had come up so we went for it. It cost us £7,500 to install the kitchen and have the restaurant up and running ready for launch - we did all the tiling, kitchen installation and internal decorating ourselves - it was a real DIY job. Inevitably we made a few mistakes, and in fact the only original piece of equipment in Brixton is the extractor - everything else has been replaced!

You've now opened seven restaurants, have you had any wobbles along the way?

Soho was terrifying. We launched in the middle of the London Olympics, and for two weeks were were literally dead. We'd maxed ourselves out to secure Meard St. and begged, borrowed and stolen everything we could to open there. I used to sit in the restaurant numbly wondering whether there was still a role for me a Giraffe it had got so bad. Then, the Olympics finished and we couldn't keep up with demand and weren't ready to serve the queues around the block.

Opening Camden Lock was a great lesson in making sure your not complacent with a launch - we'd assumed that the brand would do the talking so we didn't market it heavily, this meant it took a few weeks to get off the ground - in retrospect we shouldn't have taken it for granted.

Aside from Honest, what's your favourite burger restaurant in London?

I remember the MEATWagon very fondly, and think Yianni does brilliant things with burgers...

And your favourite London burger?

I ate at Little Social the other day, and that was a really good burger.

What's your main role with Honest Burgers now?

You could call me the brand/creative director. I work on a whole range of things that make the Honest Burger experience great. I work with our partners on the various tie-ups we have - the HBO True Blood burger launch, the collaboration we did with Brewdog brewery, and our current special  Also, a lot of what I do is menu development - so I spend hours working with the chefs sampling menu items, developing the specials. I start with a pile of ingredients and then work through tasting and removing whatever doesn't work or I can't taste. For me, there's no point in having an ingredient in a burger if it's not doing its part.
Tom created the Tribute - Honest's answer to the American cheeseburger

What are the plans for the next 12-18 months?

We've a few things on the go. Most of which I can't tell you about. What I can tell you, however is we're close to opening a site near Liverpool Street AND we're going to be doing breakfasts...expect black pudding!

Watch my short video interview with Tom, covering his Honest philosophy, his role at the burger joint and some quick fire questions.

1 comment:

  1. Shame i didnt receive a patty like that on my recent visit to Soho. It was a let down after much hype.


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