Healthy fast food chain Leon is closing in on annual sales in excess of £100m for the first time in its history after posting a turnover of £95m in 2018.
The figure represents a 25% increase on the previous 12 months, with Leon attributing it to new menu innovation, continued investment in culture and an ongoing restaurant roll-out programme.
The company delivered EBITDA of £3.5m despite absorbing around £1.7m of additional costs from higher wages, business rates, food prices and the start-up costs of opening in the USA. EBITDA in the UK rose 8% to £3.9m.
During the year, the Company’s strong trading also enabled it to reduce net debt by almost half to £3.1m, giving it a strong financial platform for further expansion.
Leon, which started in 2004 with its first restaurant on Carnaby Street, added nine more restaurants in 2018, creating around 225 jobs. It now operates 63 restaurants across the UK, Europe and the USA, with 54 of these in the UK.
The company intends to accelerate its new store opening programme, with plans to open between 15 and 20 new restaurants in the next year, creating another 500 jobs. In the UK, this will include restaurants in Wimbledon, London’s Southbank and Leeds.
It also has Ireland and the USA firmly in its sights for 2019. There are plans to open 20 restaurants across Irish cities by 2023, with the first restaurant, in Dublin’s Temple Bar, opening later this month.
In the USA, Leon chose Washington DC as the home for its first restaurant in the world’s biggest market, and will open several more in the city in 2019. It has no close competitors in the USA, and the company is determined to help American guests to fall in love with fast food again.
Leon’s commitment to create naturally fast food which is kind to the planet is also a key ingredient of its appeal, as guests are increasingly willing to go out of their way to dine with businesses committed to sustainability. Its efforts have concentrated on three areas – moving to 100% renewable energy, significantly increasing the number of plant-based dishes, and reducing the use of plastic.
Last year it became the first quick serve restaurant to offer an all-day menu on which the majority of options are plant-based. The business removed plastic straws in April 2018, taking 1.3 tonnes of plastic out of its restaurants, and introducing bio-degradable cutlery removed a further 20 tonnes.
On top of this, a majority of Leon’s restaurants – and all those in which Leon sources its own energy – are powered by a 100% renewable energy. These achievements are as appealing to guests internationally as they are at home in the UK.
Co-founder and CEO, John Vincent, said: “2018 was a strong year for Leon. Against a tough backdrop for our industry, our fantastic team showed that when you have a great menu, excellent service and welcoming locations, people will come. We have all seen the struggles being faced by the casual dining industry, with cautious consumers choosing carefully at the same time as businesses contend with increased costs, and so we take nothing for granted. However, seeing the business deliver 18 consecutive months of like-for-like growth whilst opening a further nine restaurants shows we’re responding to the challenge in the right way.
“It is encouraging to see that what we set out to do as a business when we started in 2004 – to deliver Naturally Fast Food that is good for you while being good to the planet – is proving popular with guests not only in the UK where we started, but now also overseas. We took some big steps in 2018 to take the Leon concept to new markets including the US and Ireland, and this expansion will pick up further pace in the year ahead.”