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British Burger Chain Byron Considers Sale as Casual Dining Downturn Gets Real

A strategic review of the 69-site business took place yesterday

British-backed Byron Burger Chain Open For Business Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Byron, the self-styled ‘gourmet’ burger chain which in recent years has become one of the South East’s best-known, could be sold following a downturn in the casual dining sector. The restaurant board met on Wednesday and decided to conduct a strategic review of the business, which is owned by investment firm Hutton Collins.

Founder Tom Byng, who stepped down as CEO early this year, started Byron inspired by New York burger restaurants; he found Britain’s wanting. It was billed on — here it comes — provenance and meat quality. Byng’s message was to “serve simple, delicious hamburgers, made fresh from properly sourced British beef...paired with a craft beer or an extra-thick shake.” In 2007, such branding was actually quite remarkable, certainly outside of London. Byron grew quickly and now numbers approximately 69 sites in the UK, employing 1,800 people. In 2013, when Byron opened in Oxford, the stomping ground of London chain ‘where to go’ expansions, queues stretched way down George Street. They mirrored those of Jamie’s Italian opposite.

Now either the whole company, or a minority stake, could be offloaded. Sources told Sky News that a sale is not guaranteed, but will be the likeliest outcome of yesterday’s board meeting. The company has been owned by Hutton Collins for four years following a £100m change of hands in 2013; then, it operated about 30 sites.

This year, it closed four under-performing locations.

It appears Byron is, like the aforementioned Jamie’s Italian, bucking the trend when it comes to small to mid-sized restaurants, the industry’s current success story. Unlike chains such as Wahaca, similarly sized, and Rosa’s Thai, a fair wedge smaller, Byron is clearly struggling amid market pressures. Reports say that the chain has seen a significant downturn in trading performance in recent months — it is easy to equate the strain to the restaurant sector as a whole, as it heaves under the weight of an impending Brexit.

Despite obvious difficulties, a source said Byron remains focused on growth; a new restaurant is expected to open in Bath next year. Above that, it is unclear when a potential sale might go ahead, and for how much the chain will be sold.

It is a long time since then Chancellor, now Evening Standard editor George Osborne was purposely snapped munching his way through a Byron hamburger while preparing 2013’s Government spending review. He was widely ridiculed for his choice of ‘middle-class’ supper. Are the middle classes now bored of Byron?

Last summer Byron also made the news after it was accused of staging an inside sting on a number of undocumented workers. 25 employees were deported following a “fake meeting” arranged by the company, which was planned in conjunction with the immigration authorities. It led to a significant public protest outside the Holborn branch, forcing its temporary closure.

Eater London has contacted Byron for comment.