Byron branch beats kitchen extraction blues

Byron Burger

Byron Burger has reopened the store that launched the business on Kensington High Street after a major refit — and is keeping its fingers crossed that it has solved the kitchen woes that plagued the branch.

The burger chain now boasts 52 outlets in the UK, but the maiden Kensington High Street store, which it opened eight years ago, has caused it more trouble than any other.

Speaking in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, founder Tom Byng, admitted: “We had an island kitchen here before, which looked great. Unfortunately it’s not so great for extraction; you need really powerful extractor fans when you’re cooking burgers on such a high heat. As soon as we opened the windows here, they stopped working.”

It may not be what you’d expect to hear from the boss of a restaurant group that boasts well over 50 outlets and growing, but Byng confesses he’s not a fan of the chain model.

All of Byron’s sites are individual and typically incorporate the site’s original features, such as the words ‘Dino’s’ on the wall of its Earl’s Court branch in a nod to the previous owners. And that’s the way it will stay, says Byng. “I have a healthy disrespect for chain restaurants. I like original buildings and I employ individuals.”

When Byron was acquired from the Gondola Group by Hutton Collins Partners back in 2013 for £100m, it declared ambitions to open 10 restaurants a year. Now it might be as many as 15.

Gondola owned Pizza Express at the time of the sale, but Byng suggests that’s exactly the type of business that he doesn’t want Byron to be. “I want to avoid the Pizza Express model,” he says. “I hate chains – I prefer to think of Byron as a diamond necklace.”

When Byron first launched, its main competitor in the premium burger market was Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK), which had around 20 sites at the time. Its rival now owns 70 outlets, “but we’ve grown quicker than them over the past five years or so,” claims Byng.

Other new players have also emerged, such as Five Guys, Shake Shack, Honest Burger and Smashburger, but Byng believes first-mover advantage counts for a lot.

“I’m relieved we built the flagship estate we have in London, because it’s very hard to find good sites with affordable rents now. It would be much harder to launch and scale our business in London now.”

With 37 sites in London, it is debatable how much more scope there is for Byron to extend its presence in the capital. It is certainly eager to expand nationwide, with 13 confirmed new outlets in places such as Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“Hamburgers are an iconic comfort food, so we could go almost anywhere,” Byng says. “The trick is choosing when and where. But you have to be opportunistic because you can’t control what properties are available.”

All of the Byrons are profitable, he says, and the only outlet he has ever had to close was in Guildford, because it chose a poor site. “But we’ll be back,” he insists.

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