As is the case with just about everything affecting our budgets, the cost of fast food surged during 2022 — on average about 8 percent, according to the National Restaurant Association. Food service companies can explain away all they want, but the rising cost of a combo meal hasn’t necessarily occurred due to sourcing locally or focusing on making menu items more nutritious. There is one company, however, that is definitely focused on healthier fare and more creative menu items — it’s just that you’ll have to fly across the Atlantic to visit one of Leon Restaurants’ locations.
Branded as “LEON,” the company, now a part of EG Group, has been serving fast, tasty and reasonably priced meals and coffee in the U.K. since it was founded almost 20 years ago. Leon hasn’t done away with the fast food staples such as chicken nuggets and fries; rather, it’s repacked them, spiced them up literally and figuratively, and keeps rolling out menu items that appeal to carnivores, omnivores and herbivores. While most fast food companies that have gone global have tailored their menus abroad to appeal to local tastes, Leon has turned that idea on its head: Reflecting the diversity of today’s U.K., there’s just about something for everyone at Leon (while avoiding the voluminous menus at chains such as Cheesecake Factory and TGI Friday’s that in the end have menu items that all taste the same anyway).
Vegans can sample a modern wrap take on the British classic bauble and squeak. Vegetarians don’t have to settle for processed cheese, as they can partake of Leon’s grilled halloumi wrap (shown below). And for those who struggle to settle for something other than a burger, wraps that offer a legit nod to Caribbean jerk fare or Korean street food also have options. Yes, there’s meat on the companies’ menu across its 70-plus restaurants, but Leon insists that a plant-based diet is behind its mission.
While we’re on the topic of the company’s mission, Leon has taken on its own social impact work, including its drive to make school lunches across Britain healthier or helping kids beset by restrictive diets on how to cook. That mission also extends to the company’s sourcing: Leon serves and sells ground coffee that is fair trade- and organic-certified. Plus, we’ve got to mention the aesthetics — the typical Leon location is no cookie-cutter, sad fast food outlet. Most of Leon’s locations are airy and boast pops of color that encourage you to enjoy the space rather than eating while hiding in your hoodie and hope no one you know sees you breaking your anti-fast food stance.
Leon keeps growing across Britain and despite the hard knocks that the U.K. economy keeps on taking, the company is bullish about its future. For those Yanks who have ventured to London and have been smitten by the menu and even brought bags of its coffee home (present company included), we’ll have to wait a while until Leon ventures westward. The company opened its first Washington D.C. store in 2018 (while touting Pippa Middleton as a fan) and had bold plans to expand across the U.S., but the global pandemic’s impact quashed its overseas growth strategy. So far there is no word on a U.S. return, though in 2021 Leon’s CEO floated the possibility of an eventual return to North America, perhaps in a different region.
As a side note, Leon also offers an exclusive perk — 10 percent off the menu if your name is Leon; at Heathrow Airport, if your name is Leon, you should be able to sweet talk them into a free coffee with the purchase of a meal before your flight.
Image credits: Leon Kaye; Leon Restaurants' website
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.