#122 Tom Barton, co-founder of Honest Burgers, on Leading by Example
This is the first face-to-face conversation I’ve had since the pandemic, and I’m super excited to meet the co-founder of Honest Burgers, Tom Barton, in Brighton – where the business was conceived. Starting from humble beginnings, they now have burger restaurants in London, Reading, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Brighton, Manchester and Liverpool. They make British beef patties in their own butchery, and most of their ingredients are homemade.
We discuss what it means to be honest, being an ‘anti-chain’, their Honest X Incubator initiative, eating food with your hands, regenerative farming, their role in climate change as a beef business – and green corduroy flares.
Clarkson’s Farm: https://www.primevideo.com/detail/0SHGKA0J8D4G01ZGD647627NEJ
Honest Burgers: https://www.honestburgers.co.uk/
#77 Nicole Antonio-Gadsdon, Founder of Banana Pepper HR, on leading with care: https://hospitality-mavericks.captivate.fm/episode/77
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Great pleasure to have you on the show Tom.
Tom Barton: 4:19
Thank you for having me, Michael. I say it is lovely to be here in person and see lots of faces around as well. Yes. It's Lovely.
Michael Tingsager: 4:29
Yeah, it's great and you're down in Brighton again. where it all started out?
Tom Barton: 4:34
Literally. Yeah, where Honest was conceived down in Brighton. So yeah, I've got lots of fond memories here.
Michael Tingsager: 4:44
I wanted to start with a different question how do you actually build a company that customers and employees love and support so much that people are raving about it internally and externally?
Tom Barton: 5:09
I think there's got to be an element of, you know, you got to do what feels right to you. And fortunately, you know, it was me, Phil and Dorian, when we founded Honest, that was a huge part of our business, we did things we play to our own strengths. So we created a business that we would want to go eat and that we would feel proud to go and eat in that we would love to bring our friends to our family and give them a meal and know that if we, you know, if we did everything, right, they would love it. So there was no kind of, there was nothing in-authentic about the brand, we really wanted to just do what felt right to us. And I think that's where some brands can go wrong - they can be too focused on a trend or if something fashionable or something that doesn't quite feel right with them, but they think it sits right with a potential customer. So they can deviate away from their own kind of true soul and the brand.
But for us, it was very much we just, Phil and I when we started the business, you know, before Honest Burgers, it was actually Honest Eating Co. and we didn't know anything and everything we were doing, I was fresh out of uni, we just wanted to make good food. That was it, you know, we did out of a tent. And you know, good food and burgers, of all things have such an emotive sort of sensibility about them. My, my view is because you eat them with your hands, you feel instantly more connected to things you eat with your hands, and you do, you know, a kind of fine dining experience, which is, you know, there's a completely different thing altogether, but you eat only the hands, you get stuck in and you feel quite connected to it. And you know, when we did our burgers, we just wanted it to taste great and just be really good quality ingredients, nothing that we would not be proud to show our customers. And we've tried to stay completely true to that. You know, 10 years on?
Michael Tingsager: 7:09
Did you have the vision for that at some point when you found out its burgers, because I love the thing you said about eating with your hands, that's quite a powerful thing and actually sharing if you're even sharing it with other people like you know, eating and sharing things with your hands is like, you know, it's known all over the world. There's a very few in the world actually eat with cutlery if you start Yeah, from the food tradition. That's a different conversation coming back to how you build a business like that. Did you know that you wanted to develop it very soon on the journey into you know, a business, a chain of now you're 45 restaurants across the UK?
Tom Barton: 7:42ent and then you got to spend:
So we did some birthdays with some festivals. We did the Brighton food festival, we actually did really well. There was one of the few events we made a little bit of money from. But no restaurants were not on the cards at all. It was a very long-winded tangent where we came across a guy called Dorian who had worked, done a bit of work in Brighton actually with Bills, and worked a lot for Strada at that kind of bigger chain restaurant level. And he just heard about what we were doing. We went for a beer with him. We all got on really well. We all kind of shared similar values. And we thought we could give it a go in the restaurant business. Again, we had no cash. So we thought I mean initially me and Phil and Dor were going to bankroll as a restaurant because he had quite a successful career.
But he's a shrewd Welshman Dorian. He's far too clever for that. So when he came on board, he said, I'll match whatever you guys can match for this new company, which was you know, the square root of nothing basically. So yeah, so we said Dor came on board and that's when we started this whole restaurant journey, which would have been a far more standard experience, you know, we would have gone out we would have tried to raise some money from a VC or anyone that would be interested at that stage and open a proper restaurant in a proper High Street location.
So you know, we probably needed 250 grand or something like that, given a massive chunk of the business. And you know, that's how most businesses would have begun back then. Instead, we managed to get Brixton, which is smaller than this room we're in today, you know, it's 25 square meters, we open that for seven and a half grand, and made our business from it, you know, we owe so much to that tiny little room where we just we really kind of, we really mastered our trade and our craft. And that was a huge moment for us. And we learned so much in that tiny little space. And that really kind of humble beginnings is just staying true and how we grow the business. Now our strategy of how we grow it, I always say I would love our customers to have a burger in Brixton, and I love every single one of our customers present and future to eat one in Brixton because it just means a lot more a lot of soul and heart in that restaurant.Michael Tingsager::
And that's the way it's super interesting. What are you mentioned, seems like there are some business principles that have followed you if there was no vision about being a big restaurant chain, there are definitely some business principles that follow you. And I guess they inform the way you behave and act as a business, both internally and externally. And that's what people love, I guess, could you give a couple of examples of some of the most powerful, most important principles you run a business on still today?Tom Barton::
I should be able to give you some really technical ones because I did a business degree at Brighton. But I kind of raised most of that, while I was studying, but then I think the business principles for us, the best one we've got is that word above our door, literally having Honest above the door. And I was literally on the train down here, I've been trying to articulate what that means to us as a business. And it's so powerful to have something to keep you in check all the time. I think Innocent are quite a good example of that. And to have that, that, you know, you can't do what you would never expect innocence and not behave any other way. And it's the same with us with that word we, we ensure all honesty, we haven't, we haven't worked out how we fully live up to it. And we may never will because it's such a powerful word.
But that's that challenge. And that kind of mission is what's gonna keep Honest, on the right path. We have quite a blunt phrase in our exec team, which is very simple, it's just don't be a dick, which it may so many businesses don't adhere to that, you know, we like to treat our people, like human beings with the right level of respect that you would give a human being we don't want robots, we don't want a million service steps, which is what so many big businesses have learned to love as these, you know, almost like a shackle that you give to your people. And most people go into hospitality, they're full of energy and charisma and personality, and they love you know, engaging with people, and then they start work and you whack these handcuffs on him. And it's like, you know, follow the 15-step program. And you know, it just hasn't worked.
So we just we've worked in hospitality, all of us for varying amounts of time, but we'd all been disenfranchised by it a lot. And just thought, there's an easier way. And a lot of that is just ripping it up, really, and starting from scratch and way more simplistic view and giving people that work for us, respect to be themselves and let them make mistakes. We always say you know, it's not a mistake unless you've made it twice. You know, Own your mistakes. Don't shy away from them. But yeah, the biggest lesson for us is that word, you know that that keeps us really on track. And if we go against it, and we have done in the past, if we do, we look back, we resolve the areas that we've messed upon. And we move forward with it. So it's really good to have that kind of constant reminder that what kind of business you want to be.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, and as you said, our thinking as we're preparing for this as well, like the brand name is so powerful that you almost can almost ask the question, you know, is this Honest.Tom Barton::
Yeah, like 100%Michael Tingsager::
What doing now in that moment of time, and you will probably always have difficulties living it 100% perfect because it's like saying, I want to be great. Yeah, but you're never done, it's a process.Tom Barton::
That's the best thing and so it's like that. If I always think that it's really healthy, to feel a little bit insecure about your business. I think if ever if ever Honest, if ever I or Phil or Dor, anyone at Honest, sits back and sort of, you know, puts their arms up and thinks great, that's me. Now I'm done. Then we failed. Like, you've got to always feel like you can do more, to achieve more. And that's, you know, that word honest is that it's almost like the kind of unicorn, we probably will never be able to live up to that across every single area of the business, because it's a big business now, and there's but we want to, and as long as we're trying and you know, this is what the next few years are for me, you know, we've been around for 10 years now, which shows and the grey hairs on my head, but it's, it's like a that the way I kind of see us now is we're kind of we're in our 30s now, but most like, physically, I'm in my 30s now, but you know, we're more mature as a business. And the last 10 years we've been, we were in our kind of the 20s, we were trying to be our best, but we were still, you know, flawed and we still weren't on then we weren't being as effective as we could be. Now I feel like we've got the time we've got the resources got the energy to really hone in on what it means to be Honest, and how we make sure that that word is across every single area of our business.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, and I guess as you scale, that's because you have the same challenges that any chain because I remember in the beginning, and I had that in my notes as well, this was called your anti-chain vision, in a way. So it doesn't mean you don't want to grow your business. But you will be you mentioned before, like putting the handcuffs off putting the big manuals down and only stopping people from growing. I think that's what you mean, with anti-chain?Tom Barton::
Yeah. I mean, if I was gonna ask you a question, why? Why do you think businesses don't want to be called a chain?Michael Tingsager::
It's because, in principle, they are chained and handcuffed?Tom Barton::
Yeah. And that's the best, the well-trodden path of our hospitality industry is most chain restaurants, they're either gunning for a three out of five, or you just get a three out of five experience. That's just the way it goes. And you know, Phil, has a really powerful speech on this, that he gives to our guys. He's probably doing it right now. It's just he's doing an old-school hospitality course with a load of our managers, but they're basically chain restaurants, in our opinion, not all of them, obviously. But a lot of them restrict themselves by gunning for three out of five experiences, and they will be consistently three or five, every single time you go there, no matter what time of day, what day of the week, you'll get that experience, but then they're, they're kind of clipping their own wings, they're not allowing themselves to ever get a five out of five, or 10 out of 10. Or even better than that, because they're so terrified of getting one bad customer that they just put these big rules in, put these big service steps in. They restrict what their teams are allowed to say. I mean, one of the worst ones I heard, and I won't name who it was, but that someone got disciplinary because they called a customer guy. They were like, Hi, Hi mate, or like, Hey, guys, how's it going? And that customer complained, and head office acted on it.
And they decided to issue a list of words that you're not allowed to say to customers. And that word, they weren't like shit or fuck or anything like that. It was like, Guys, mate. And it was like if I'm if I've worked for a business in hospitality and I get given a list of words, I'm not allowed to say I literally feel like I'm 10 years old for like you're at school. And the cultural impact that you see in a business like that. I think it's damning. It's just gonna It's just you're clipping the wings, these people that work for you, you're treating them like children. But you know, you won't get that customer who complained call that someone called a mate. And you know, as a head office, that might be a great box ticked, you know, we've one hat, but there's just these, like, over, over-policed kind of environment and we just let our guys be themselves like we really do we and we if we get an issue, we get a problem. We get a complaint, we deal with it, and it happens.
Everyone gets things that go wrong, right? Doesn't matter who you are, how big or small you are, you will get issues. But we are gunning for five out of five. You know that is what we want your experience to be. And we're prepared to take one out of five we'd rather feel would say he'd much rather one out of five and a three out of five. We don't want people to come into Honest and feel like you know Yeah, it's okay. We want him to love it, you know, to really feel like they've had a connection with the person serving them. And they've loved our food and they've enjoyed learning a little bit about our brand. And that's what I think you struggle to get in chain restaurants. That's why I think people see that C-word as an insult.
And that's why we kind of try and behave like the anti-chain. And all the local stuff we do as well, which is something you don't expect a big restaurant with, you know, become the 45 restaurants, we've got 45 Local burgers on our menus, which work with more than 45 local suppliers. And these can be, you know, a tiny, little startup business and they might make barbecue sauce from a kitchen at home, or it might be a, you know, bigger dairy in Bristol Western dairy who's got, you know, a big dairy but they're still really fiercely independent and incredible masters of their craft. And yeah, it's an absolute headache for our supply chain for our accounts team for all the people who have to deal with allergens for our food safety. But it gives our managers I keep calling the manager.
So right we call them restaurateurs who give our rational toes, power, and control over their own restaurant. That's why we call them restaurateurs because we want them to feel like it's their restaurant because it is they get to call the shots, they get to decide their local beer, they get to go out and choose it, they get to choose their local burger and go out and find the businesses that they think would work for their restaurant. And stuff like that, that we think is really important. And you know, by all accounts, say to our restaurant managers, restaurateurs, they seem to really like the fact that we give them the freedom to just go wild, really, and we get some great burgers out of it as well.Michael Tingsager::
I love it - I made a note before about something that was really interesting, I thought that you talked about the way you actually you know, you communicate to people and how you treat people and use you said in a way that is an overwhelming part of the industry where you have the parent-child relationship with employees, and we come back to the staffing crisis in a moment where I think that's one of the reasons and as you know, you talk parent to parent, in a way and that's what you're in a way say that actually is we can never create a psychologically safe and inciting workplaces before we actually meet our people at the same place where they are, and actually just treat them as grownups?Tom Barton::
Exactly. I mean, Brian and Phil, Brian's, our ops director, he just had a, you know, a career with sorts of Wagamama Nando's and he's a great guy. And he's, he's really revolutionized the way we work as a business. Because the old school way, we call it the Christmas Tree Model where it's like, you know, CEO at the top, and you kind of filter all the way down, and you've got all these different levels of management. And they're all there to effectively protect the head office from, you know, making mistakes, and they've got all these different levels and area managers and blah, blah, blah, and you keep going down. And ultimately, if you're, if you're a general manager, or you know, restaurateur, as we call them, you feel like you're being babysat. And that whole system is there, to make sure that the lowest 10% of your business is okay. And, and doesn't make a mistake. And you're always going to have the lowest 10% of any business, right who, whether it's people who've just started or people who just aren't very good at their job.
And that's just the way the world is. But that whole model is there to protect them. And it's at the expense of the top 10%, or the top 20%, or top 30% of people who could be thriving in a better environment when they're given freedom, they're given the freedom to go out and run their restaurant the way they want to. And obviously, we are a restaurant that has consistency across our business. And if a restaurant decides they want to put a pizza on the menu, we're obviously gonna have a conversation with him. But they wouldn't do that. They're not idiots. They know, you know, if they want to put a five-quid burger on the menu and buy their meat from a local butcher, they know they're not, that's not going to happen. So, you know, it's a bit of a step into the unknown in terms of just giving our guys freedom, but we've prepared to tackle issues when they come along, have grown-up conversations, and find a resolution to that.Michael Tingsager::
And so interesting, also, because you were catching yourself before and the words you were using, you went oh no, they're not managers, because we are so you know, you went to this Yeah. And I've been through and I work McDonald's, and we have these, you know, top-down industrial language command and control managers and responsibility, accountability, all those words. So words are also very powerful. I can see what you do as well, which I think is very interesting is the way you tried to communicate both internally and externally. You're very aware of the words you use because they
very powerful to have deep meanings, you know?Tom Barton::
Yeah, hugely. Like I said on the way down here, I was typing up this. I know it's cool but it's kind of a bit of a, I don't know maybe even like a monologue is the right word, not 100% sure I know what that word means.Michael Tingsager::
Is it a manifesto?Tom Barton::
We actually want to say that's really wanky, but it is this kind of, you know, what? How do we live up to the word honest? And I find it hilarious because I kind of does a lot of copywriting honestly. And I find it hilarious that I'm in an industry where I'm kind of writing stuff. Because I never thought that I know, I don't think my English teacher at school would have believed that either. But yeah, there's, there's definitely a, there's a tone to get, right. And that's how you talk to people. And I definitely don't get that right, a lot of time, I can be quite blunt. And that can be quite difficult for sure. But there's definitely, you know, how you communicate what kind of brand you have internally and externally. And, you know, we've seen the benefits of having a really powerful brand externally, which my lovely wife can take a lot of credit for, because it's, it's so easy to engage with, you know, whether that's the name, the color, the flow diagram on the menu, the simplicity of it speaks so confidently.
And that's so incredibly important. And that's where we're trying to find that internal brand now with our, with our people, which is what we're kind of focusing on for the next few years, how do we really live into the live-up to this anti-chain philosophy, we call it honest 2.0. You know, burning down the Christmas Tree Model and try reinventing our own way of doing things and it's you know, we're in the early phases of that we decided this year would be the right year to do it, which, you know, why the hell not? We've got lots, everything else seems to be going. You know, people are wanting more, we need this industry, like we kind of alluded to earlier, before the podcast, the industry needs a wake-up call. Otherwise, it's just I don't know what's going to be left of it. So we're going to we're trying to help with that.Michael Tingsager::
And staying a bit in this track, you know, how you build an organization where you call the burning down the Christmas tree, I call it the freedom to operate and you give them you know, empower them locally. How do you do that? Because I can almost see when people listen to this thing. Yeah, that's all great. But how do you actually practically start doing you know, initiatives to do that? Because you didn't, I guess, you experiment to find out what worked for you?Tom Barton::
Yeah, I mean, it's definitely I'm not taking any credit for this. This is a lot of work for Phil and Brian, who have been the real kind of leaders of this in our company, but think it's come from a lot of it came from Brian's own experience working in that model, where he was a very capable manager. Yeah, he was treated the same as the bottom 10%. Yeah, he could have been so much more in that business, had he been given the freedom. And the way we've tried to do it, and it has been, you know, we've had lots of lots of conversations when we're in the first lockdown that gave us all the chances and exec team to basically spend a lot of time on Zoom. and work out what, you know, we had some really emotional conversations, and you know, people's emotions were running high and low during that time anyway.
So we had, we went really deep into what we want Honest to stand for. And it was almost like a kind of, you know, Ground Zero Moment for businesses where you kind of started again, and we've decided that we think it's better for us as a business if we give our guys more responsibility. Simple as that, really. But we need to give them the resource to be great. We're not just like, you know, getting rid of very managers and saying, Go for a guy to fill your boots, do what you want. We have to give them now a framework of resources to make the right decisions. And it's very much like down to them. We're not going to force it on them. They need to come to us, you know, I've sort of had up our food dev team. We used to go to Adam. He's head of collaborations. But he doesn't know about food isn't worth knowing. He used to go to sites and say, right, there's this great restaurant down the road. They've got this great dish, we think we can partner with you. I'm going to introduce you to our email, blah, blah, blah. Now we didn't do that.
Now it's up to the restaurateur. They go out and they find the businesses they want to do and we will help Then, once they've made that step, it's the hand-holding, and the babysitting is gone. Now, now, if you want to be a leader in our business, you need to act like one. And you need to be mature and grown-up, and we'll treat you like that. And it's been, it's been, it's not been easy for sure, it's been difficult. There have been lots of hiccups along the way. And we knew that was coming because it's a completely new mindset. But we do believe it's the right way to empower the right people. And that's the crazy thing that you go back the last 10, 20 years. These, you know, general managers, they will always be called, or not treated like general managers.
And they should be because they are the ones that are taking over the business and making the exec team and the shareholders millions of pounds when you see these huge, great, you know, 100 to 300 million pounds sales. That is on the general manager's work that they do day in, day out. And they're not treated like that, and they don't get, they don't get rewarded, I don't think in the right way. So we're trying to give our guys ownership of their business so they can treat it as their own business and have that kind of pride when they come into work every day. But yeah, it's not easy, for sure.Michael Tingsager::
It's interesting, It's like any change, you need to go, it's not easy, but you need to start pushing the boat over the first two,Tom Barton::
You got to start somewhere revenue.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. And, and then you head out and see, at some point that it becomes easier as people pick it up as well. Because the general managers have been used to be in the Christmas tree organization where the things are thrown down at the bottom.Tom Barton::
That was my first comment. When we started talking about this. I was like, are we sure that you know, when we call them general managers about then are we sure this is what they want? Because it is a tried and tested career development, right? You maybe start at an assistant manager, then you go to a general manager, and then you go to an area manager, and then you know, you don't work in restaurants anymore, and you sit in head office. And that's kind of like most people how they progress. And if you're lucky, then you might get to a director or you got to go into the exec and blah, blah, blah. And I was worried initially, is that what people want to they want to lose that.
And we're, that's what we're kind of wrestling with the moment is how can we give career development to people in the right way. Because we want to reward people but they don't have to just follow that boring path. It doesn't, you know, we might have, we've got some people who were unbelievable at working a room, they are absolute masters at it. But in most businesses, that is their ceiling, they'll never earn more money, they'll never get and more responsibility, they will be a shift runner, or maybe an assistant manager, they might be crap as a manager because actually all they're really really great at is just managing a room, you know, being that kind of conductor, and then befriending people within two minutes of knowing them and you know, that's a skill. So we're looking at ways of how we can reward that without imposing and forcing a managerial role, because some people just aren't very good managers, right? Some people just want to be.Michael Tingsager::
They don't want to be Yeah, you're not gonna say no to the pay raise.Tom Barton::
Exactly. You get pushed into it and then a year down the line, you're like, I hate this I'm gonna leave now. And you know, we've lost that person who was brilliant at what they do. So yeah, it's there's tons I do feel like I'm bastardizing it a bit because it's very much Phil and Brian's role but that's where we're our heads out in terms of we want to just look at it through a fresh lens because if the last 10 years towards anything with the industry needs to adapt in the last two years towards anything, it really doesn't need to adapt.Michael Tingsager::
It is interesting also that it almost focuses on making them you know, you call them restaurateurs. That's what my mom called herself when she ran her business. And she was an Entrepreneur in principle, but on is interesting giving him entrepreneurial skills so they can go on. And actually, this is very interesting. The reason why I want to go over there is that you are creating an incubator internally in the Business Honest X. Yeah. Can you tell us a bit about that? And what that does do for you as an organization?Tom Barton::
Yeah, again, it's, that's definitely Phil's baby. And it's been something that's kind of in its sort of early development stage at the moment, but one part of that it's kind of like where we would, we would put projects that innovate within honest and, you know, maybe one day outside of honest because we've got some great innovators in our business and we like to think we're quite an innovative business in general, the way we've done things over the past And one of the areas that sit under at the moment is this streetfood incubator. Which is, effectively we feel like, over the past few years, we've had lots of people come work for us who said they, they came to work for honest because they wanted to learn how to set the business. And they wanted to see how I and Phil had done it, and, you know, maybe learn from some of the things we've done, get some expertise, and then go off and do their own thing, which I absolutely love that people have that connection to us.
And then we started thinking, you know, as a business, we've got lots of expertise, lots of expertise, much wider than my own. In our, you know, finance team and our ops team, our people team, we've got all these skills, we could help businesses become, you know, a better business. And we can incubate them from, you know, from the ground up, basically. So, this is what we've started, we've got a site, we've got this collaboration with backyard cinema down in Wandsworth, where we've got we serve burgers out there. And there's also a little street food pitch that we've set up. And we're basically asking our guys who worked for us to pitch their concept to us.
And we've got one guy, a great guy who has worked for us for a while, and I've got James Moody, who's doing a gravy business, that we've been working with him for a few months now. And he's out there, kind of honing his craft, working out how we can create a consistent, delicious menu and trialling on us and we're giving him feedback. And, you know, we help him use, he can use our prep kitchen to develop his recipes and all this kind of stuff. And it's going, it's going well, you know, it's James has got a great energy about him. And we're going to try and help him, you know, is kind of any way we can. But the idea is, yeah, we want to give people a platform to start their own business and hopefully, allow them to make less mistakes than we did.Michael Tingsager::
And that's super exciting, because a lot of people in hospitality actually, you know, have a dream of setting up their business, but often is the skills they can learn in a safe place. Because often you come out and it's like jumping into deep water. And often it goes really wrong. The first one, and then you need a lot of energy to try on the second one.Tom Barton::
And a lot of courage to bounce back, you know, and that's, what I feel for anyone that sets up a business outside of their 20s. Because, for me in my 20s, I thought I could do anything. I was like, you know when we set up Honest, I honestly don't think I ever thought for one second that it would fail. We just, we just did it. We didn't think, you know, two days in advance, we would think in like we were in the moment so deeply that we just always thought it was going to work. And it's that kind of sort of near-on arrogance of the 24-year-old that you just plough ahead of it. Whereas now just be you just constantly be thinking, what if what's the problems? What have you thought of, you know, what could go wrong?Michael Tingsager::
I guess that's also an advantage that you are I called it a bit naive in my 20s as well.Tom Barton::
Yeah, massively.Michael Tingsager::
Yes. Just hit on it. And you'll learn something because youth isn't the arrogance view you can call as well. Yeah. Another thing I noticed you because we talked a bit about the culture, and you know, how do you attract and retain people that are interested in how you run a business people come to you for that, and they probably stay for long as well, compared to the average. Well, I saw you're also gathering people. And you are having the Honest Fest coming up soon? Yeah. And I guess that's also something where, you know, people build relationships, and it's just a different thing. It seems a bit more than just a party.Tom Barton::
Yeah, we've done the, you know, the historical get-togethers that genuinely just descend into chaos. And it's just a, you know, two-day pissed up. Basically, we've done them. They're fun, but you don't really get anything from them. And we very much our people director Chantel she came on, she was like these can be so much more they can really heal things they can we can when you get people together, you have great conversations, and then you can get pissed and have fun. You know, that should be part of it. Because we know we work in a high-stress environment. So did our first one Camp Honest. A couple of years ago, where we bet it was a meeting for all of our restaurateurs and our leaders and we wanted to get more out of it and there was and it was incredible, and it's really emotional, and there are lots of people You know, lots of tears, lots of lots of really, really meaningful conversations. And, it was really emotional for me as a founder of the business to see what it had become. And quite, quite powerful. And I really enjoyed it.
And I know, I know that a lot of our managers kind of walked away and they felt like it had been a really meaningful moment. And so Honest Fest is that again, but a bigger and wider and everyone in the company is invited. We just think now more than ever, we need, we need that, you know, and it is a big investment for us as a company now we're closing the restaurants for a day. Apologies to any customers because of that, but you know, our people need a break. They've worked so goddamn hard the last couple of years in some of the most obscenely stressful conditions that we want to get them together and we want to give them a good time. And give them some great food, give them some great music. I know, the good times that will be felt after that will be weeks and months from now. And it's fancy dress and other fancy dress. I love fancy dressMichael Tingsager::
What are you going to dress out as ? is it the secret?Tom Barton::
I have a pretty fetching pair of green corduroy flares that I'm going to be doing in the Summer of Love theme. So I've got a wig that I wish was my own hair. And yeah, lovely 70 shirts, which is going to be ruined because we've got a dunk tank, which I'm going to almost certainly get dunked in Yeah, with my outfit,Michael Tingsager::
Taking it from you're building this incredible environment where you're working hard to hit five every day. The industry has just gone through, probably a tipping point, in many ways, the pandemic, coupled with Brexit has really changed some things and staff is difficult to get this one of the biggest challenges probably for decades has always been hard. But now it's harder than ever. What are you doing? Are you changing anything within how you manage that? And how are you doing your practices around? You know, recruitment and retention?Tom Barton::
Yes, the guys are I know that for sure. I know people's teams are working tirelessly to try and show the world that Honest is a different place to work. And there's, you know, significant career development, but different forms of career development. Generally, for me, I think people want to work somewhere where they like what they sell. See, it sounds simple, but you do you just you know, we having a menu, which has things that people want to eat on, it is a big thing. And from a cheffing perspective, and you know, cheffing has always been really difficult to recruit for now, with Brexit with lots of people deciding to move back to Europe.
See their families, you know, COVID has meant even more people have gone back, they may have not seen the families for two years. So it's like I need to spend some time with my family now. It's really difficult. Lots of people throwing money at the problem, which is it's hard because it's very short term, it's bound to impact customers eventually because it's just rising all these price bands. And pay ban sorry, which is eventually going to just mean people have to start charging more for food. So yeah, it's this pretty, pretty sort of wild west out there at the moment. We were not kind of we're very conscious of not doing anything knee jerk honest. We like to try and be very reasoned and calm about our decisions.
But doing things, you know, trying to give our guys a bit of passion and pride in what they do. You know, we like to think that our chefs are working with real food when they work with us. I'm definitely going to sort of focus more on the cheffing side of your question and just because that's more my area and we've got a post going out, hopefully, today which we're going to basically show our customers that because we're working with new season potatoes of chips a bit smaller. Because of the weather we've had recently these chips, the potatoes coming out of the ground are now just a bit smaller than they would have been the years before. Because of the variety because the weather because of the time we've dug him the out of the ground. It's things like that that I love you know, I don't mind if we get a complaint our customer says all your chips are tiny and like they're real potatoes. We work with real ingredients is the time of year. We want to be more honest about that and about the supply chain.
And I think our chefs really liked that they like that they see the effort and energy we go to to make our food. And when they phone, our main supplier, which is our own prep kitchen, they're talking to a colleague. And I know that they like how much energy and effort we go to. Because they feel like they're on that journey as well. You know, it's not just, it's not just owning a third party, and buying a product that you can buy in 10,000 other restaurants around the country is ours. And that, that, for me is so important. If you want to work with food, you want to work with proper food, not something that you can just buy from Booker's or, you know, cash and carry kind of vibe. But yeah, outside of that, there's a lot, a lot of challenges on recruitment, for sure. I think things like on his fest, we had a great gathering.
Last week with our head chefs where we put on a massive dinner for them, we launched a program called the Green Jackets, which is kind of the kind of to aspire to, for the best of the best in our chefs. And you get these really cool jackets we made. But it's giving our back of house and front of house more of an identity and rewarding them and Phil who laughs when he hit if he hears this because a friend of his literally we're talking about it as as a little bit late for this podcast, I was chatting to Phil about it, the value of giving someone something that doesn't have financial value.
And I'm going to completely steal this from Jerome, who's a friend of Phil's this analogy, which I just thought was genius. If you know for me, and you were like old school, old buddies and old mates, and I met you in the pub, and I gave you a pound and said, I just want to give you that to say thank you for being such a good friend, you know, it's been really, it's been really great these past few years, they would obviously not mean very much, it'd be quite weird to put a value on something. Whereas if I just send you a text completely out of the blue and said, just wanted to say thanks for being such a great friend these past few years, it would mean so much more. So rewarding our guys, you know, we've lived we've gone through this where we used to give people a bottle of champagne on their first year and then a bigger bottle of champagne on their second year and then an even bigger bottle show and it was like it's all just a bit transactional. So we're trying to work out ways how we can get under the skin more and give people something that means something to them. Which we're kind of just scratching the surface of.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, then you know, this is going to be a very deep conversation about you know, identity because you know, I think a lot of the staffing crisis in my view is not all of it some of it is like people have lost they found out I don't have an identity - in their mind they say that “there's something that doesn't serve me” that identity doesn't serve me anymore to one I had in the past. Yeah, I don't get a better human and I think what we need to understand in business is how do we actually make people better humans when they come into our business? And how do we help them with that? And of course, it needs to be a salary that meets a certain level because we all need to getTom Barton::
There's like a hygiene factor. But I think that's why there's such a mass exodus of people in hospitality because they don't feel valued. They don't feel like the career is what they thought it was gonna be. And they're leaving and it's a real shame because you know, I mean I never thought I'd be in hospitality when I was a kid and but I just think the best industry ever it's such it's full of so much diversity and you know, no day is ever the same. You could work 1000 years in hospitality you'll never get a day, exactly the same. You get these you meet amazing people you know, for me, food is the kind of pillar in my life to get to work with proper food on a daily basis is amazing as well. And you know, anyone who's worked in a kitchen knows they're a very unique place to be. But they're the best I love it and it's it's real it's a real shame you see, you know, so much negativity around where the industry is gotten itself today, but they're obviously there are loads of outliers and they're amazing businesses doing amazing things as well. Yeah, we just hope to be one of them as well.Michael Tingsager::
You touched about food let's get to that because that's also a very big passion of mine like you know proper food you know, honest food let's use that word. What's happening you know, what is hospitality is the role when you know, you know to come to climate change other challenges the whole food supply chain as the massive challenges within that if it even shortages of food, you know, also food that has been contaminated, as I say with factory produced elements and things we don't even know what is we will never have an old kitchen What is the role of hospitality? You know that because we are serving a lot of food? So we have a lot of impacts, I guess if we do the right thing?Tom Barton::
Yeah, I think we discussed it earlier, before the podcast, and that you summed it up really nicely. Like it's, it's Pandora's box at the moment, and no one wants to open it, because they're terrified of what they're going to find. And you see, you know, the majority of people, and whether that's, you know, restaurant food or retail in your supermarket, the majority and I would hazard a guess maybe it's as high as say, 99% of people have no idea how their food has actually gotten to their plate. And, you know, in some ways, the carnage and destruction it's caused, along the way to get there. And I kind of forgive customers for what kinds of customers are kind of forgive people who buy their food from the supermarket to never, they're never going to get that detail in how they have that steak got to that packet, or how that cauliflower got to that aisle, I get that because it's kind of it's almost impossible. And you know, you're never going to get that level of detail from most supermarkets.
But in restaurants, I think we've got better, we should have a better understanding of where our food comes from, you know, big, big businesses need to be better at sourcing better food because it can have a huge impact. Like we're seeing, literally, you know, right now we're seeing the impact of, of climate change, right in front of our eyes. And it's been pretty terrifying. And I think the problem is so big, that people are so much easier to just bury your head in the sand and forget about it. But that's obviously not going to fly for much longer. So I think all restaurants have a far greater responsibility to try and source direct, I think it's part of it's one of the main things. I think our system, certainly the meat supply chain, has been dominated by a few massive businesses that have enormous revenues. They promote quick, fast, intensive farming. They drive down prices with farmers, you know, intensive farming has been I get why there is intensive farming. And I get why, you know, in the after the war, why there was a serious shortage of food.
But that's not what it was, you know, that sort of 70 years ago now like we don't need to, we shouldn't be behaving in the same way. We've got to start working with nature and not trying to replace nature with an industry that makes a lot of people very wealthy but ultimately destroys soil health and biodiversity. So for Honest, there's a business and for me who I love food, and I have been eating hay for too much of it, you know, it's the thing that I look forward to. I'm already thinking, what am I going to eat in Brighton today? We've got a responsibility. And we haven't even scratched the surface. You talked about that word on, it's living up to it. We haven't even scratched the surface on how that plays into our supply chain. And that's what the next few years are going to be for me how do we make our supply chain honest. And we're, we're good. We're better than most. We don't have any skeletons, I'd gladly show a customer around the supply chain, but I know we can be a lot better. So that's where my focus is. Yeah, over the next few years.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. And I guess so that as you do that you also open Pandora's box, as we talked about.Tom Barton::
If you like it or not, there'll be things you don't know. And I think that's the scary bit but supply chain, they're things you don't know what happens in the sixth link of that supply chain sometimes.Tom Barton::
Yeah, no, I think if you take things at face value when it comes to food, you're probably being lied to. And it really, you know, sounds a bit extreme. But there are so many marketing terms that are schemed up to, you know, do a slightly different grade of chicken which is actually exactly the same but you're going to charge more for it. And I always use the corn fed everyone expects corn fed chicken to be better must be better welfare because looking at the packaging is really nice. And it's corn-fed. That's different. You know, this is nonsense, the end of the day, and I think we've had it as a business where I thought our beef supply chain was good. And it is good, but I thought it was better than good. I thought we were buying grass-fed beef. And we were buying native breeds We are most things have a certain meaning to them, but they're not. They're not enforced or orange. They don't force enough. And you know, the grass-fed messaging you when you actually start unpicking it, it really doesn't mean very much and that terrifies me as soon as I found that out, I was like, This is crazy. I need to be better than this, you know.
And I found out that there's no one going around when a farm or butcher says this beef is grass-fed. There's no one going around checking, there's no auditing these farms and ensuring maybe the best I could find is 51% of a cow's life could be grass-fed to be deemed grass-fed, which is like okay, that's, that's not grass-fed them to sit if it's, you know, half the cow's life, what about the rest of it? Is it soy? Is it soy grown in the rainforest? Is it soy grown? Or unsustainably? You know, when you look at what I'm really passionate on now when you look at like regenerative farming, and you see what a closed-loop system is, it is just how you know how brilliant a system is.
And then you look at how, you know, intensively reared cattle and intensively reared pigs intensively are chickens and just how different those systems are, and how any benefit that the animal could have had on its own little ecosystem. It's just been ripped out. But it's quick, and it's cheap. And you know, and that's what customers we've wanted all these years. And I look at a regenerative system, it just, you know, literally makes me quite emotional. And I've been to a few of few farms, I've seen these practices in place and unlike, you know, I would have a conversation with anyone about this is got to be the way we have to start looking to try and combat climate change, you know, I don't think we all need to eat less meat. Obviously, everyone knows that.
And I think it's you know, a lot of people are but going vegan, in my humble and non-scientific opinion. There are serious downsides to that also. And I think the assumptions people make with vegan food that firstly, it's good for your body is terrifying because it's not just isn't an, you know, there's a mostly vegan, plant-based meats are incredibly high in Omega six fats, which are, you know, really high inflammatory ingredient, they're full of, of hyper-processed ingredients as well, which God knows we don't even know what damage they're doing. I'd love to know the real deep dive on the impact those ingredients are having on their own systems considering this 25 Plus in most of these products, and they're all made around the world. They're all hyper-processed individually, they're all repacked sent to another factory probably in another country and then turned into a burger and then repacked and then sent out, you know, all these things, just most vegans that I've spoken to don't know that they think that these products made vegetables out of the ground with a nice happy farmer and a lovely bit of countryside. I think, you know, for me, when I see I see Honest is a bit of a platform to be able to try and promote things that I've I say it kind of bluntly, things that I think important. You know, that's I guess that's the privilege I've got of being a co-founder of a business. And I'm trying to be as expert as I can be on it. I see our business is going to be a beef business. And it can be a better beef business. And I think we can support farmers in the right way by doing the right kind of farming methods. Then anyone listening is interested in regenerative farming it's fascinating. I won't go into all the details now because we probably could do another podcast.Michael Tingsager::
Is there a place to get more information on this?Tom Barton::
There are podcasts out there there are Netflix documentaries, just basically farmers working with nature and not trying to replace nature's the way that I would try and very succinctly tied up but you know, animal welfare is at the peak of it. And the quality and pharma mental health is something that you know, doesn't get kind of get swept under the carpet. I think the Jeremy Clarkson farm program was brilliant. You know, just put a bit of a spotlight, on farmers who've been villainized. For so many years, when they're the people that feed us, they should be heroes. And obviously, there are some that shouldn't be heroes, but the ones out there that are doing it right and trying to look after their land for their kids or their grandkids or other generations, they're heroes, and they need to be rewarded for that. And I hope our government is going to do that now with Brexit, but yeah, apologies. You remember,Michael Tingsager::
Such an interesting conversation, because we can do so much as you say, by, you know, choosing our supply chain and challenging it, we will find things that maybe not okay, how do we change that? And then I like you, you said as well. It's also the way we actually educate people about food, because the thing is, and education because as you said because I've done a bit of work. And another project I'm working on is where we were standing, observing what happens in supermarkets when you buy over-processed meat substitutes, and people just look at the front page. Yeah, I always look at the back page on everything I buy, and lots of because I'm maybe a food geek like yourself, but they just pick it down. It looks like the countryside, the second five-second decision rate. And if people just start asking that question, is this actually good for me? Will I have these ingredients at home? I think also we can learn people that we learned a lot?Tom Barton::
Well, I think that's one thing that we do have as a restaurant business because I think in terms of the impact from a customer, you know if you want to reduce your carbon footprint as a customer, it's the food you eat day in day out, which for most people isn't restaurant food. It's your lunches, it's your breakfast it's your, you know, the midweek dinners you have, which are mostly from supermarkets. And, you know, their impact is this, you know, there are some big claims being made at the moment in terms of goals and how they're set them, which is good, but I don't think supermarkets are doing enough. But for restaurants, I feel like, we can definitely give you a real deep dive into the education of where that food comes from. That's got to be our goal. And that's, you know, for the regenerative beef that we will be trialling in the next few days in a few sites.
For me, hopefully, once that trial is over, and we've stress-tested the supply chain, and we've got a great network of farmers. And just to be you know, on this one, we literally had to create the network, there is no network out there that the farmers were bringing on boards, we are where we're educating them into a new supply chain, and into a new system. And I say we this is a group of farmers that I've met, who are absolute experts in it and they's practising regenerative methods, they're now going out onboarding farmers and, and making them you know, educating them to change their system from literally from the ground up, you know, these some of these guys are just, you know, they might just overnight have something have happened where they're like, I want to be better. And we're now giving them the confidence to do that because we're going to be buying whole carcasses off them. So you don't have to worry about what's going to happen with you know, the premium carts or the forecourt that whatever it is, we're going to buy whole carcasses off them. We're using an abattoir for a service, which is how you used to use avatars before they got so powerful.
And we're giving these guys a fair price. So they don't need to rely entirely on subsidies, I think I read something a while ago that the EU budget total budget of 40% of it made up of farming subsidies, which is just mad like the industry doesn't work on its own. And I don't know enough about that, to know whether that's the only ever that's the only future for it. But I'd like to think with the right education. And sadly, we're going to probably get to a point where customers will only start really listening to the issues when they see them affect their own lives, like freak weather that we're all-seeing. And now for honest, you know, like I keep saying that word above the door. How do we live up to our name? How do we be sustainable? Well, in my mind, we can't even mention the word sustainable until we tackled our beef problem until we've done something about that. You know, that's the golden goose. So that's what we're doing. And for me, I think the way that we succeed at this is by educating people and if we get people starting to learn more about regenerative farming, learn about the benefits of that and they start They stopped buying meat five times a week in Sainsbury's and they go to, you know, an independent butcher that's sourcing regenerative beef or regenerative meat in general, then that's a that's quite powerful that kind of gets my juices going.Michael Tingsager::
There's no doubt about it takes real passion to change this and I love that the single focus does one thing well here and figured out also because beef is so so relevant compared to your product. I want to ask you two more questions before we wrap up.
This is a bit different one, we're going away from the supply chain and have all gone through extreme challenges through this last couple of years what has been like the one life or leadership lesson you've taken out of this, and actually taking on with you into the future.Tom Barton::
It's an old one. But I think it's the best one, it would be lead by example. I think I've heard I've heard stories in most people who've worked in hospitality have worked for someone whom they would have zero respect for. And I've heard stories of you know, powerful business owners who you probably would have heard of how they treat their people and how they swear at them or phone them up in the middle of the night and have a massive go at them. Like that's not a leader. For me personally, it was when I decided to take my life a bit more seriously when we started Honest, I was 24 We had a lot of success. at a very young age, I drank too much partied too much that the Blurred Lines can cross very easily in hospitality between drinking and there's a huge drug problem in our industry as well. For me, I decided because of lots of reasons to stop drinking, and start taking care of myself.
And that showed externally, I remember seeing a few of our chefs who'd been with us for a few years do the same thing. I remember that felt really cool. And they, you know, people who drink to smoke a lot stopped. And they said we did this because we saw the benefit it had on you. That meant a lot to me. And I've meant that was like I felt like I was a leader who was impacting the people that work for us in a positive way. So yeah, I think that's it's an old one. But it definitely is powerful with you. If you lead by example, you're not a hypocrite. And you know, you will give yourself a break at the end of the day, you will get things wrong every now and again. But that's an important message. If you want to gain respect and credibility. That's the one.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. THE Dalai Lama also calls it "Be the change you want to see”. What is your top advice to leaders as well in the industry right now?Tom Barton::
I say you feel qualified enough to give advice to other leaders. But I think for me if I can just say from my own learnings, honestly, you know, for people who want to get into this industry, people want to give something a go. You've got to do something that you're passionate about. And so many people I find out, you know, they're just they're doing something because they see it's a trend or it's a fashion or it's a fad, like, you've got to have your heart in it. And the best businesses are created by people who really, really deeply meaningfully love that thing. And I love that Okay, so I'm just gonna say the F word then I've got all this way without swearing, anything. You know, dudes that do something that you feel you feel something for because this will make your the next you know, 10 - 20 years if you're lucky, doing that a lot easier.
And stop procrastinating like that. I literally tell myself every single day, that everyone procrastinates every single day. And it kills me and I do it all the time. And I really try and have the conversation with myself to just get on with it. And I think with businesses. I love speaking to people who've made that step. I struggle with people who haven't, but who have thought about it for years I struggled with those people because you know, what are you waiting for? You're getting older now it's getting more stressful. You've got to just get on with it. And we made some mistakes along the way, but we didn't procrastinate we really just got stuck into it.Michael Tingsager::
What about the organization as Honest as they'd like, you know, any learnings advice you can take from that if people want to set up a business as like one thing they should do?Tom Barton::
So the organization of business, I think, is, again, an old one, but a goodie, you need to get people way better than yourself. Don't be afraid of that. There are so many people Honest, who are so much better at so many things than I am. You shouldn't expect to be the best at everything. You need to be humble enough to find people that are better than you and give them the freedom to do what they need to do. And I think doing something on your own, I wouldn't dread to think what Honest would have turned out as if it was just me or if it was just further if it's just Dor like it wouldn't? wouldn't have happened. So don't do it on your own. Find someone that you trust? Not necessarily the best mate. I think that's always just a bit. You need someone like me and Phil, we're more like brothers than we are mates. You kind of transcended friendship, and that's what you need. But probably not your actual brother as well, because I think me and my brother would kill each other.Michael Tingsager::
Tom is absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing, there are so many episodes more we could do on regenerative farming, you know, we could do a whole series on culture as well. It's a big question we talked about. So thank you for your time and your honesty. And I send you and the team and everybody around you the power and energy to go through the next period, whatever that looks like.Tom Barton::
Yeah, who knows. Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it.