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Leon restaurants founder John Vincent says he hopes Issa brothers will continue his ethical stance

Jim Armitage
·3-min read
View of Leon restaurant (PA Media)
View of Leon restaurant (PA Media)

John Vincent, the London entrepreneur behind the Leon chain of healthy fast food restaurants, today told of his “sadness” at having to sell the business following the Covid crisis but said he hoped its new owners would continue his ethical approach.

Leon was sold to the billionaire Issa brothers, who made their fortune in petrol forecourts and are currently in the process of buying Asda.

Yesterday it emerged that they were buying Leon for £100 million in a move that sparked concerns among some customers that the company’s vaunted ethical standards of good working conditions and a commitment to healthy fast foods would be compromised.

But Vincent, who will collect around £13 million of cash for his stake, today said: “I dealt with Mohsin Issa and I have to say he has been making so many of the right noises about wanting to support our sustainability values that I would be upset if he did not honour those commitments.”

He said he had known Issa for several years and had discussed joint ventures with him before.

He added: “Time will tell, but it’s not like this is Tesco we’re selling to. If I thought the brand would f**k up I promise you there is no way I would have let the business be sold... Besides, if they screw Leon up I will just start Leon again.”

He said his hand had been partly forced by his private equity backers, who owned the majority of Leon.

“I need a business I own 100% of that I can give to my kids when I pop my clogs, rather than they have 10% of a business owned by private equity.”

Industry experts have been astounded at the price tag for a chain that owns a largely-London based selection of restaurants and sells ready meals to Sainsbury.

The Evening Standard understands the price is made up of £87 million equity and £13 million of Leon’s debt.

That means the Issas have paid about 9 times 2019’s £9.5 million equity value. Pret A Manger was valued at 15 times when it was sold, but that was in 2017, long before the Covid pandemic crisis.

Vincent said: “I didn’t want to sell it. I’m sad to have to sell it so I wouldn’t have sold it for any less, frankly.”

He launched the business in 2004 and named it after his father. He imbued in it a series of ethical high standards, putting on regular, free, wellness sessions for staff and free wing tsun martial arts sessions at the company’s Southwark HQ.

He said he expected the Issas to extract synergies from using the Asda retail chain as well as their petrol forecourts and potential Leon drive-thru restaurants. “This could be a £1 billion business for them in four years.”

He said he was now planning to invest his share of the sale building up another ethical food business.

The author of the positive thinking management book “Winning Not Fighting” said: “I am really sad but I have got to follow and be positive. I can’t write a book about positivity and then wallow in my negativity.”

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