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Top 100: John Vincent, Leon

19 April 2018 by
Top 100: John Vincent, Leon

Overall ranking: 51 (68 in 2012 with Henry Dimbleby)

Restaurateur ranking: 14 (18 in 2012 with Henry Dimbleby)


John Vincent is the co-founder with Henry Dimbleby of healthy-eating fast-food chain Leon, which has 49 sites in the UK and three in the Netherlands. Leon burst onto the food scene in 2004 and was named Best New Restaurant in the UK by The Observer the following year. Since then it has expanded internationally, published eight cookbooks and launched cookware and tableware ranges. Vincent and Dimbleby have also headed up a government review of school food Earlier this year the group revealed plans for a new Asian concept. Revenue broke the £50m mark in 2016, reaching £58.4m, up from £36.9m the previous year, with like-for-like sales up 7.5% year-on-year. After the injection of a "significant investment" from Spice Private Equity owned by GP Investments in May 2017, Dimbleby stepped away from the business and down from the board to make room for GP directors. Dimbleby remains a shareholder, but is no longer involved in running the day to day company.

What we think

Childhood friends Vincent and Dimbleby, son of BBC broadcaster David, hatched the plan for a chain of healthy fast-food restaurants while working together at management consultancy Bain. Until that point, their collective experience in the industry amounted to a stint by Dimbleby as a trainee chef under Bruno Loubet after university. 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 of their own money and the backing of Dimbleby's father and City financiers Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz, they opened the first Leon on London's Carnaby Street in 2004. It was an immediate hit, serving 800 covers a day and turning over nearly £25,000 a week. A second site opened just over a year later at Ludgate Circus, which achieved similar receipts and was followed by three more openings 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 "loss of confidence". Despite this and the departure of co-founder McEvedy in 2009 to concentrate on her writing and television career, the group continued to grow steadily, opening sites at London King's Cross railway station and Heathrow T3 in 2012.

Dimbleby and Vincent's status as kings of healthy eating was confirmed in July 2012 when the government asked them to examine school food provision across the country. Their report saw the rules surrounding school dinners changed and both were awarded MBEs in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2015.

In 2016 an agreement with transport hub restaurant specialist HMSHost International saw the chain expand into the Netherlands, with a second restaurant opening in the country in 2017. Earlier this year Leon and HMSHost announced a series of new openings in railway stations and airports across 14 countries in Europe and the Middle East.

A separate partnership with travel catering expert SSP, announced in 2016, saw Leon open sites in stations including London's Paddington and Liverpool Street. A collaboration with RoadChef, announced in 2017, has taken the company into motorway service stations.

Difficult trading conditions, including high rates and rents, have slowed Leon's expansion ambitions in the UK, with Vincent telling The Caterer he expected to see six new restaurants open in 2018, rather than the 10 originally planned.

With Dimbleby now no longer involved in running the buisness, Vincent may be cautious of difficult trading conditions at home but their ambitions to take healthy fast food worldwide remain on track after the company secured £25m from GP Investments. He recently told The Caterer he has long-term ambitions to see 500 branches open in the US, the first of which are expected this year.

On top of this, Leon plans to launch new Asian concept Tuk Shop, in association with Thai food group Aylmer Aaharn, this April.

This month Vincent will be presented with the business achievement award at the British Travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame.

Further information

Leon to launch new Asian concept as it looks to overseas expansion >>

Leon's new Asian concept Tuk Shop to be launched in the West End in April >>

Leon reports record revenue as it breaks £50m mark >>

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