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Byron Burger’s Next Great Hope Is Brunch

The embattled burger chain has had several innovation misfires — now it’s banking on burgers, bourbon, and smashed avocado

Byron Burger’s new burger menu, including the “new Byron” burger, fries, crisps, and Byron beer Byron Burger [Official Photo]

Byron Burger is going to reinvent itself until something sticks. Most recently, the embattled burger chain launched a new logo inspired by sitting around a table, with an Ari Aster-does-kitchen-sink-drama strapline of “All hail the table!” Now, it’s doing something a bit more tangible: changing the food.

Before the logo came two smarter moves: a £10 million cash injection and the hiring of prominent chef Sophie Michell to revamp its food offering. Her first full menu will debut at the High Street Kensington restaurant on 19 November, according to Hot Dinners. Its hallmark is The New Byron, an updated version of its signature burger that packs bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, sauce, and pickles. Its biggest move, though, is brunch, expected to launch in 2020 and the most obvious showcase of Michell’s apparent desire to make the brand feel a little more Californian — she describes Los Angeles and California as “seriously ahead of food trends.”

The most striking dishes are a breakfast tostada with feta, avocado, corn, salsa, and fried egg; and a tres leches French toast. Less Californian are the two choices of butty, either with bacon or mushrooms.

These changes seem smart on the surface — particularly in adding a potential new source of revenue come “brunch time” and possibly appealing to diners who wish to go somewhere familiar but don’t want a burger. It’s important to contextualise this with the fact that 34 of its 53 restaurants are in London — outside the capital, that prediction looks more solid, but in a city where brunch is readily established in all its stripes both at restaurants that realised its potential profitability years earlier, and at specialists in the art: convincing diners to defect for dishes they can have elsewhere may be a more difficult proposition, especially with its brand equity so diminished.

Goodwill is running low because, up to now, Byron’s engagements with the media have ranged from damp squib reinvention to irreparable damage to its reputation. Its new logo went down about as badly as it could have — or, as well as a company most familiar with sitting around tables to decide which restaurants to close could have expected. It had already lost swathes of the public by organising a fake staff meeting in order to turn its workers over to the Home Office, which was at the time working under Theresa May’s infamous “hostile environment.” Before the logo, came the deeply weird “flex burger,” a patty made of 70 percent beef, 30 percent mushrooms, and 100 percent “U wot?”

Yes, the balance sheet will be where this menu really needs to make its mark: with a £47 million loss to July 2018, but an assurance from the board that “the Company has adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future,” the financial turnaround could start here. But Byron’s reputation, culinary and otherwise, has a tangible effect on its ability to draw in diners and thus turn its fortunes around: brunch and a new burger aren’t going to immediately fix a legacy of lax innovation and PR disaster.

More soon.

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