How I Got Here: Tom Barton

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Tom Barton Honest Burgers Brighton launch

Related tags: Casual dining, Burger, Honest Burgers, Brighton

Tom Barton is the co-founder of better burger pioneer Honest Burgers. Later this month he will open his first restaurant in Brighton, which is something of a homecoming as the now nationwide group started life as a street food player in and around the city.

Why restaurants?
Phil (Eeles, co-founder) and I always wanted to do something ourselves. We never had enough cash for a restaurant so we went down the street food route. Then we met Dorian Waite, who has lots of restaurant experience and we quickly came across Brixton Village and realised we didn't need a lot of money to set up so we jumped right in. £7,500 later we opened our doors to queues of hungry Londoners.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
The best way to learn is to do: make mistakes and keep learning from them. I was nervous I didn’t know enough, and that this would hold me back, but in reality you never really know an industry until you just jump in. I think a lot of people can’t make that initial step because of this and it’s a real shame.

What do you do in your spare time?
I love cooking so I’m always trying new recipes and keeping myself well-fed. Being around burgers a lot has its downsides, so I try and stay active as well. 

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Barrafina, I haven’t been since Nieves (Barragan Mohacho, former executive chef) left but I’m sure it’s still great. Off to Sabor next month so that might be my next favourite.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
I was very close to working on yachts with a mate from school, but decided to stay and give burgers a shot. Had I not, I think I’d probably be doing that. Or working in an office driving myself slowly mad. I can’t deal with repetition so I always knew I’d need to do something that had variety.

What motivates you?
My work life and private life pretty much revolves around food, so I’d say that's my biggest motivator. I spend most of my day thinking about it, it used to drive my teachers at school mad as I’d just drift off and think about what I was going to eat for dinner.

Where was your last holiday?
Scotland. That's my wife and I's special place. The food and landscape is truly extraordinary.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
I had a placement year during my degree and didn’t take it seriously at all. I called in sick about 30% of time and was hungover most of the rest. So my manager took me to one side a few times and eventually convinced me that I needed to start taking my life and career more seriously. He was a big reason why I felt compelled to start my own business.

What keeps you up at night?
I’m normally pretty good with my sleep, I need it… I’m useless without it. Every now and then work gets pretty manic and I’ll be up for hours. Either that or foxes having sex in my garden. 

Worst business decision?
I was unprepared for a board meeting a few years ago and decided to try and boost our database and give me something good to talk about, so I decided to put a tweet out saying anyone that signed up to our database gets a free burger. The tweet was live for a couple of hours and we had about 9,000 people sign up. That was pretty embarrassing, but you live and learn.

Best business decision?
Opening up in Brixton. The space and community shaped our business. If we’d of opened up on the high street straight away I think Honest would be very different to how it is today.

What are you reading at the moment?
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, second time now. All time favourite book.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Don’t let anything stop you trying. It’s too easy to make up an excuse and let an idea fizzle out. You need to just take the first plunge… that’s always the hardest step

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?.
I think the delivery food market has really crept up on most restaurants. It's great for convenience for customers but some food just doesn’t travel well. It pains me that our chips are never eaten at their best when they’re delivered. 

Honest Burgers will be running its field kitchen at Brighton's Holler Brewery tonight (14 February) and Friday (5-10pm) and Saturday midday to 10pm ahead of their bricks and mortar restaurant opening on Duke Street on Monday 25 February. 

CV

1986 Born in Bath
Studied Business Management and Marketing at University of Brighton
Years of working in bars, nightclubs and restaurants whilst at school and uni
June 2011 - present Co-founded Honest Burgers

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