Founded by John Vincent, Henry Dimbleby and Allegra McEvedy in 2004, Leon was one of if not the first branded restaurant concept to put its customer’s health and wellbeing at the very heart of its offering.
It subverted the fast food model, offering food that was affordable yet relatively kind to the planet and also relatively low in salt and fat, with a focus on lean proteins, whole grains and raw ingredients and fries baked rather than fried.
Despite the first few sites being highly influential, growth was painfully slow at first but picked over the past half decade or so: Leon now has 70 restaurants, including 42 company-owned sites and 29 franchised sites across the UK and Europe.
McEvedy left in 2009 and Dimbleby stepped down as CEO in 2014, handing the reins to Vincent.
The trio stand to make a significant amount of cash from the deal, with Vincent owning 15% of Leon and the other two founders holding 15% between them.
Leon was majority-owned by two private equity firms, Active Partners and Spice Private Equity.
The acquisition of Leon sees EG Group - which also owns Asda - further strengthen its presence in foodservice.
The company plans to invest in Leon and open around 20 Leon sites per year from 2022, while develop its non-restaurant products across its convenience retail proposition.
The group, led by the Issa brothers, operates more than 700 foodservice outlets in the UK & Ireland of which 310 operate from standalone premises.
EG Group operates sites for a number of third-party brands, including Starbucks, KFC, Burger King, Greggs, Sbarro, Cinnabon and Subway.
In December 2020, Leon approved a CVA and restructuring plan, which protected all sites and jobs. In February, Vincent warned that Leon was burning through £200,000 a week during lockdown. Its heavily London and travel hub-concentrated sites have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
“Leon is a fantastic brand that we have long admired. As established entrepreneurs in the foodservice retail market ourselves, we have a huge admiration for the business that John and the Leon team have built over the years, and firmly believe that their culture and values closely align with our own,” the brothers say.
The Issas said the acquisition presents an opportunity to develop the menu offer, the various concession formats including drive thrus, and build on the existing network by exploring opportunities across its own estate.
“In some ways this is a sad day for me, to part company with the business I founded 17 years ago in Carnaby Street. But I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mohsin and Zuber across the last few years,” says Vincent, who will leave the brand as part of the deal.
“They have been enthusiastic customers of Leon, going out of their way to eat here whenever they visit London. They are decent, hard-working business people who are committed to sustaining and further strengthening the values and culture that we have built at Leon, a business that has my dad’s name above the door.”
He said the Issas would be “superb custodians” of Leon, with the “vision, investment appetite, foodservice expertise and network scale” to grow the brand.
“This is what Leon has always been built for and I am confident under the new ownership, the brand will flourish and have even greater appeal to a broader customer base, especially outside of London,” he said.