‘Healthy fast-food' group Leon Restaurants is 10 years old and readying itself for a big expansion. Hannah Thompson speaks to head of food Toph Ford about new healthy food trends, the group's future projects and setting sights on both home and abroad
Leon is on the cusp of a big expansion drive. Do you have any more details?
There are 18 Leon restaurants, but the potential is a lot bigger. We have opened five new restaurants in the last year, which gives us confidence in our ability to commit the resources needed to grow. We'll be up to 35 sites by the end of 2015. Our 20-year plan sees us with a few thousand restaurants globally.
What do you look for in a site?
Are other sites are on the horizon?
We have Euston Station, Stansted Airport and four more central London locations under offer. Healthy fast food trends have been on the increase.
How has this affected Leon's offer, if at all?
When we started Leon 10 years ago, no-one had ever thought that fast food could be good. From the beginning we have cooked with olive oil, fresh herbs, spices and superfoods, and catered for people avoiding gluten and dairy.
What new dishes or recipe changes can you highlight?
Our milk-free shakes are going down very well - almond milk allows people avoiding dairy to enjoy them, and they also provide good fats and low calories.
How has people's average spend changed alongside the economy? Any noticeable changes?
If anything, people have placed more value, rather than less, on good food. We have launched lower-priced dishes, but our higher-spending customers continue to be loyal.
It was previously announced that you would open half your new sites outside London, but you recently closed Bluewater in favour of more London sites.
We are really keen on opening restaurants outside London. We've opened East Midlands Airport and Eurotunnel Folkestone and would love to do more, but we have so many opportunities in London that it is difficult to branch out. Bluewater was profitable, but we were offered enough money to allow us to open another three restaurants.
How would you summarise Leon's direction and new projects?
Our aim is to make it easy for everyone to eat well. We do this through providing naturally fast food and with our big projects like the School Food Plan [by Leon co-founders John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby].
How important are sites inside train stations and airports?
Since King's Cross opened, we are constantly receiving requests to open in Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, etc. And by having a flagship site in Heathrow Terminal Two, it has introduced us to people from America and beyond.