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CODE meets Philip Eeles, Honest Burgers

Published 16 March 2020

When Tom Baron and Philip Eeles sat down in the pub a decade ago and hatched a plan to start a burger business, they could not have imagined what it would later become. Now with a 37-strong portfolio, Honest Burgers is a fan favourite across the country. CODE’s Harriet Prior chats to Philip Eeles to find out more..

Can you tell us a bit more about how Honest Burgers started?

It goes right back to 2010. I was working in a restaurant in Brighton trying to be a journalist and I met my co-founder Tom who was also working a front-of-house role – it’s a myth that people think we’re chefs! We’d always joked about it and then we went for a beer at the pub and decided we’d start a burger business – by the end of that we decided we’d put about ¬£3000 in each, bought a marquee, grill and fire and starting testing out burgers in his flat in Brighton and that was it.

So did you start out doing festivals?

We naively thought we could just do Glastonbury, but you need about £20,000 just to get in the door. We did private parties and events. Our first job was at an 18th party!

Was it always the plan to have multiple sites?

We really didn’t have a clue what we were doing to be honest – we never even thought we’d get a restaurant. It never once crossed our minds.

What are the challenges that come with opening sites outside of London?

We have seven restaurants outside of London now. Operationally it puts more strain on the business – you can’t physically see them as much as you would see London sites. I thought this was where restaurant chains go wrong, as they don’t feel like a central part of the business, but now I think the right thing to do is to treat them just like our London restaurants. Each of these cities have their own identity and we celebrate that.

We have our own central kitchen, so they get the same quality of food all the other restaurants get. We’re the only ones that I know of to make our own patty – certainly of our size. We also make our own chips!

How do you stand out from other brands on the market?

Being homemade is a big one – no one else makes their own chips and burgers. We like to think we just try a bit harder – lots of people told us it wouldn’t be possible to make our own chips for that many restaurants, but we’re still doing it. We never accept the standard and always want to try and do better.

How do you cope with the growing vegetarian market?

It’s totally cool for us – we really care about meat obviously and where it comes from, but the veggie / vegan thing doesn’t scare us. We’ve done a veggie burger from day one, we’ve got the plant burger on the menu now. We were the ones to launch that when Beyond Meat came over to the UK!

We don’t kid ourselves into thinking we get the hard-core vegans in our restaurants, but people are just choosing to eat more vegetarian and vegan burgers. Also it doesn’t stop whole groups coming in if there’s one person who is vegetarian.

Any plans to go international?

Nothing planned just yet – we’ve got a bit more of the UK to go. The logical step is to go somewhere in Europe and stay close, but for me everyone says it’s hard for English brands to do well in America and that spurs me on even more. The big thing for us is picking up the central kitchen element if we went abroad – we’ve got to stick to the homemade routes.

What’s your favourite Honest Burger?

Probably the Honest Burger! I’m a bit nostalgic and like to keep it simple – I’m a bit emotionally attached to it.

Would you recommend opening your own restaurant?

Yes 100%. I think people wait too often for the perfect time and think they need to know everything, but my advice would be to just get on with it. The food industry is amazing and the food scene in London is based around street food, markets and growing from there and I think it’s really exciting.

What advice to you have for those looking to follow a similar path?

Just to go for it and make sure you’re obsessed with quality. Don’t get too arrogant – a lot of people start their business, get a bit of success and then step away from it really quickly. Stay close to it, work hard and have higher standards than your customers. Be relentless and know how good it should be. I’m always in the restaurants and you learn a lot being there and doing some shifts.

Would you recommend working with a co-founder?

Totally. If it had just been down to me we wouldn’t be where we are now. There’s three of us in the business – it was me and Tom when we had the temp business and then Dorian joined us to push into four walls. We are all really different, so we all bring a different angle. You definitely need someone to check your worst impulses. You can go from loving each other one morning to being at each others throats! You need to have someone in the business to call you out.

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