Cateys 2021: Restaurateur of the Year – Group: Philip Eeles, Tom Barton and Dorian Waite, Honest Burgers

08 September 2021
Cateys 2021: Restaurateur of the Year – Group: Philip Eeles, Tom Barton and Dorian Waite, Honest Burgers

Sponsored by Entegra Europe

Honest Burgers' co-founders Philip Eeles, Tom Barton and Dorian Waite have won this year's Restaurateur of the Year – Group award for their commitment to both people and product during one of the most difficult periods the industry has ever faced.

Honest Burgers had delivered impressive growth up to the point the pandemic hit, despite making a pre-tax loss for the previous two years. Founded in 2011, the business started out life as a burger van at food festivals. Ten years – and one pandemic later – it is a 45-strong restaurant chain that reported turnover of £40.4m for the year to January 2020. With the backing of its investors, Honest Burgers looks set to resume its path to further growth, while innovating in how it collaborates with staff, at a time when retaining and recruiting talent represents a stiff challenge.

Over the pandemic Honest Burgers kept its 520 employees engaged by harnessing social media tools such as Facebook's Workplace to host events such as quizzes, 80s-themed exercise classes, music lessons and a series of ‘Honest conversations' on topics such as mental health and Black Lives Matter.

When restaurants were finally allowed to open their doors once more, Honest Burgers decided to allow employees to roll over any unused annual leave to 2023 and to take up to four weeks at a time, believing it unfair to force furloughed staff to take holiday when they couldn't go anywhere. This people-focused mentality has paid off for the business too, because operationally it is much easier to plan for an extended period of time off, as opposed to frequent weekends when restaurants are busy.

The brand has also diversified its product, with the launch of Honest Chicken in May 2020 in London's King's Cross, and plans to open more in the near future.

Honest Burgers has been a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association since 2016, and recently formed a committee of staff members to make sustainable changes inside and outside the business. In 2018, it launched a ‘like meat' plant burger, and while menus differ across sites, all feature a vegetarian and vegan section.

What the judges said

"Honest Burgers stands out head and shoulders above the rest, as a result of its commitment to people and product." - Jeremy Roberts

"This is truly a best-of-class concept. The founders have doggedly stuck to their knitting, delivering consistently craveable food served by genuinely friendly teams. Honest is a big, successful business that has not lost its way through Covid, and has enduring strong values." - Robin Rowland

"Taking a concept and growing it from a food truck to a group of 45 restaurants nationwide and not losing focus or diluting on the core offer – which can be so tempting as you grow – is very impressive. The founders' ability to work with local businesses and suppliers to enhance their standing and arrival has been clever and genuine to the Honest brand. Thoroughly well deserved." - Mark Selby

The shortlist

  • Gavin Adair, Rosa's Thai Café
  • Philip Eeles, Tom Barton, Dorian Waite, Honest Burgers
  • Andrew and Pranee Laurillard, Giggling Squid

The judges

  • David Loewi, managing director and chief operating officer, D&D London
  • Kate Nicholls, chief executive, UKHospitality
  • Jeremy Roberts, group commercial director, Living Ventures
  • Robin Rowland, operating partner - London, TriSpan
  • Mark Selby, chief executive, Wahaca
  • Martin Williams, chief executive, Rare Restaurants
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