ShortList meets Tom Byng, founder of classy high street burger joint Byron – created in 2007 and sold for £100m last year
What made you start a burger restaurant?
I spent four years in the US eating enough hamburgers to sink the Titanic and being exposed to their service culture. That was the inspiration.
What’s the first rule of opening a restaurant?
Be comfortable with the stats, which tell you that opening a restaurant is one of the fastest ways to lose money. Essentially, it’s like chucking your money in a bin.
Right, so work your way up…
Exactly, you can’t walk into any business – much less restaurants – without any knowledge of what you’re doing. I worked from the bottom up, from dishwasher to the front desk, a sort of Jack-of-all-trades if you like. And that’s how I learned my craft.
How do you cope with the pressure of running a £100m business?
You have to love food; it has to be the thing you think you were born to do. This not an industry for people who think, “Oh, you know, I could be quite good at that but I don’t need to be that involved.” You have to put your heart and soul into it because you’re going to face a lot of challenges. You have to love what you do.”
What qualities do you need to be a business genius?
You need to be creative but also good at analysis; you need to be good with people but you also need to be very organised – and you need to be able to make money. Rarely does one individual have all these skills. So – to use a rugby analogy – when you get tackled you need someone to pass the ball to. It’s lonely on your own. That’s the secret.
Should I try to start a ‘cool’ business?
Let me spell this out for you: hamburgers are not cool, but everybody loves a hamburger. The fad is over, but what remains is an enduring love for hamburgers – and different types of hamburger. Just because they’re cheap, doesn’t mean they have to be crap. And that’s the thing that’s changed.
If your business was Twitter, what bits of it would be ‘trending’?
One of the things we’re keen on at the moment is beer – and championing cans over bottles. Cans have a bad rep – everybody associates them with sh*t beer and tramps, but that’s a big con. Cans are better for preserving the freshness of beer – they don’t admit UV sunlight – and more sustainable because you can get twice as many on a pallet as you can bottles.
In short, beer is good for business. Any other advice along those lines?
Work hard, play hard, make some money, make friends at work and enjoy hamburgers – just don’t eat 10 a day.