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Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, Leon

Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, Leon

Overall ranking: 68 (NEW ENTRY)
Restaurateur ranking: 18 (NEW ENTRY)

John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby – Snapshot

John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby are the co-founders of healthy eating fast-food chain Leon, which has 13 sites in total: 11 sites in London, one at Bluewater in Kent and one at Heathrow’s Terminal 3. In 2012, the pair were also asked by the Government to head up an examination of school food across the country.

John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby – Career guide

Childhood friends Dimbleby, son of BBC broadcaster David, and Vincent hatched the plan for a chain of healthy fast food restaurants while working together at management consultants Bain. Up until that point, their collective experience in the industry amounted to Dimbleby’s stint training to be a chef under Brunot Loubet after university. Yet, unperturbed, the pair quit their jobs in 2002, completed lengthy research including a month flipping Whoppers at Burger King and brought on board chef and friend Allegra McEvedy.

After raising an initial investment of £500,000, made up from their own money and the backing of Henry’s father and City financiers Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz, the first Leon opened on London’s Carnaby Street in 2004. The restaurant was an immediate hit, serving 800 covers a day and turning over nearly £25,000 every week. A second site opened just over a year later at Ludgate Circus, achieving similar receipts, followed by three more in 2006.

The group brought on board former La Tasca boss James Horler as non-executive chairman in 2007, although he quit the following year, citing a ‘loss of confidence’. Despite this and the departure of co-founder McEvedy in 2009 in order to concentrate on her writing and television career (although she remains a shareholder), the group continues to grow steadily, and opened its 13th site in London Kings Cross railway station in 2012.

In July 2012 Leon announced it was aiming to open 10 more sites within three years with a new finance scheme, which raises cash from customers.

John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby – What we think

Dimbleby and Vincent’s status as kings of healthy eating was crowned in July 2012 when the government asked them to examine school food across the country, overlooking long-time campaigner Jamie Oliver in the process.

Despite the media portraying it as a slap in the face for Oliver, Dimbleby insists that the pair aren’t trying to step into his shoes. “Some people think the school meals thing was fixed by Jamie,” Dimbleby told the Daily Telegraph. “But there is a long way to go. Jamie’s job is to raise issues and keep up pressure for change, and he does it brilliantly. We’re not going to take the reins from him, because we don’t do what he does.” The duo have until the end of 2013 to come up with ways of improving canteen food and getting children of primary and secondary age excited about eating healthily, and if they bring the same enthusiasm and dedication to the role as they have to their restaurant group, this whole furore will be quickly forgotten.

Such was Leon’s originality when the first store opened in 2004, queues for its healthy fast food stretched out the door and its popularity allowed Dimbleby and Vincent to open a quick succession of sister sites. While the recession has meant that expansion plans have been scaled down – Vincent suggested that it would be possible to have 3,000 worldwide by 2020 when talking to Caterer back in 2006 – the group has steadily consolidated and grown, and saw a turnover of £12m in 2011, up from £10m the year before, with restaurant EBITDA at £1.4m.

When announcing a new customer finance scheme, the pair showed that their ambition for growth remains undiminished: “Our vision is to become an international fast food business, growing through franchise and owned stores. We would like to have a Leon on every high street in the UK but at the same time we will expand carefully and ensure we retain the quality which is at the heart of the brand.” And as Leon and its two founders seep ever more into the national consciousness, few would bet against it.

Anne Bull elected as new LACA chair >>

Channel 4 investigation into school food was a missed opportunity >>

Leon’s Henry Dimbleby insists review of school meals isn’t driven by money >>

Leon to open 10 new restaurants with customer bond scheme >>

Leon co-founders to examine school food across the country >>

Leon restaurant to open at King’s Cross station >>

Leon restaurant group: 21st century takeaway >>

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