Perennially troubled burger chain Byron has again saved itself, at the cost of 650 people’s jobs and the loss of 31 restaurants. Investment vehicle Calveton U.K. has acquired the brand in a pre-pack administration, according to Propel’s newsletter, with current private equity owner Three Hills Capital reverting to a minority stake in the business. It will leave the brand with 20 restaurants in the U.K. Of its 33 London area restaurants, only six are being retained, in Soho, Islington, Covent Garden, Waterloo, Old Brompton Road, and White City, shedding many neighbourhood sites which other restaurant operators see as an essential part of the future of dining in the London.
Byron appointed administrators at the end of June, partly in order to avoid paying creditors during a bidding process that it had instigated weeks before. Citing the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, high-level staff bemoaned the timing, coming after positive financial results had suggested that its measures to improve the restaurants, from slashing rents to the planned refurbishing of its entire estate, had been a success.
Byron has spent the last nine months reimagining its restaurants, menu, and logo in a bid to resurrect its fortunes, which plummeted in the midst of the “casual dining crunch” in 2018. It had already lost swathes of the public by organising a fake staff meeting in order to turn undocumented workers over to the Home Office, which was at the time working under Theresa May’s “hostile environment.”
While mass casual dining closures seemingly occasioned by COVID-19, from Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia, to Ask and Zizzi, are frequently in fact the pin in a massive, private equity-inflated acquisition bubble, Byron’s continual decline is not just a result of overexpansion; that is what forced the brand to close restaurants in 2018. Despite the newest new menu apparently being a success, its attempt to reverse the 2018 decline was marked by a series of errors: the strange “Classic flex” burger, a patty made from 70 percent beef, 30 percent mushrooms; a bizarre logo. More recent successes suggest that Calveton has not acquired a busted flush, but it, like Three Hills before it, will face a huge challenge to restore the brand’s equity that has been so damaged by its engagement with the Home Office and series of misfires. Pizza Express, in arguably deeper trouble with its £1.1 billion of debt, is greeted with an outpouring of preemptive grief anytime troubles surface. The same cannot be said of Byron, but the chain, for now, lives on.