At the moment we’re redesigning the frontages of Leon, so they better communicate what we do. Our big challenge there is that we want to be recognisable, but we don’t want to take a cookie-cutter approach – like McDonalds or Tesco, for example, which look the same on every high street. It takes time to get that right – to be flexible and sensitive to local environments – so we’ve been meeting every week with Darren, our designer, Fusion, the people who do our restaurant design, and Wally Olins (the branding expert who used to run Wolff Olins).We’re also re-designing the menu boards, so we’ve been talking to our designer and a food photographer called Jason Lowe, to think about how we can introduce photography to our menus.
We’re also looking at how we can engage better with kids: toys, activities they can do in the restaurant – anything that makes Leon more kid-friendly. And we’ve been working with our food improvement team, looking at ways to make our food even more sexy and exciting – so every week I tend to have one meeting about our evening food, and one about the ‘bits in between’, i.e. our cakes and biscuits. This week I’ve also been talking to EMI, about the possibility of holding some gigs at Leon, and to the Soil Association, about a big dinner we’re holding at Leon in November to publicise their new campaign. It’s all about whether Britain can be self-supporting – if we had to feed ourselves, could we manage it?
We’re about to do a new round of funding for Leon, so that’s taking up some time in terms of talking to our current shareholders and to people from outside (to see if there’s any smart money that wants to come in). We’re about to open two new sites, in Bluewater and White City, so we’re looking for growth capital. And of course, as I do every week, I met with Leon’s CEO Henry and the FD Simon to talk through our property and operations.
As for Vasari, we normally have two or three meetings a week to discuss dealflow. So I get together with my team and they take me through the deals we’ve got going on, then we’ll decide which ones to progress to the due diligence stage and which ones to drop. Our focus is on branded businesses – food, personal care... In fact, one thing I’m doing at the moment is working with a designer called Dar on launching a natural hair care range, using Indian oils and natural products. I’m actually just about to have a development meeting on that, to talk about the range, the positioning and so on.
I also spend some time every other week with HBOS – they’re very focused on entrepreneurs and we have a shared investment team, so we meet once a week to share dealflow and dish out due diligence.
And then tonight I’ve got to get home to watch my wife (the newsreader and presenter Katie Derham) in Maestro, this conducting thing she’s doing on TV. She’s always loved music, but she’s absolutely fallen in love with conducting...
Former MT columnist John Vincent co-founded upmarket fast food chain Leon Restaurants and remains a major shareholder. Along with Jacques Fragis and Vivien Imerman, John also runs Vasari Global, which represents Vivian's investments – their previous holdings include food business Del Monte and Scottish whisky brand Whyte & Mackay.