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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Henry Dimbleby MBE

Henry Dimbleby MBE is the co-founder and former CEO of Leon. In his career, Henry has been a Commis Chef under Michelin-starred Bruno Loubet, a Non-Exec Board member at DEFRA, a co-founder of London Union and was commissioned by the Government to review school meals in the UK – which in 2013 lead to his creation of The School Food Plan; recommending healthy lunches, free meals and school allotments. Henry is the Founder of The Sustainable Restaurant Association. He has also made a BBC documentary “A Meaty Problem” about British attachment to eating meat, to which you can listen here (0:57-2:41).

Leon is a London-headquartered restaurant group which sells “healthy” fast food. It operates 62 venues, mainly in the UK, some in Europe, and one in the US. Further expansion is planned in these regions, as well as Ireland, where it expects to open 20 restaurants by 2023. Henry stepped down from Board in 2017 but remains a shareholder.

Follow Henry on Twitter @HenryDimbleby.

Interview Highlights

I love the taste and smells. I love travelling and eating abroad. Mentally, I’m quite flighty, but there’s just enough when you are cooking that you can’t really think. It requires you to stop thinking about the outside.

In my private life I am happiest cooking for friends at home. I like just creating a nice atmosphere and seeing people enjoy themselves.

Meal times in our family were very important things, they were always big affairs where things really got discussed…I do think there is something wonderful about sitting round a table as a family.

I inherit my pleasure of food from my mum. I am very sensory. She used to run outside on a warm day and she would feel the air with her hands and say, ‘ah, feel that air’.

The thing I find most pleasurable is coming into Leon when it is really busy and standing at the back to watch people enjoying themselves.

I was working for Nihon Telecom in Japan and I thought, I’m getting paid so much that I’m never going to leave. I rang Leon co-founder John Vincent and said ‘the fast food business we’ve been talking about, I’m going to do it’ and he said ‘me too’. That’s how Leon came to be.

The things that I’ve been involved in creating, whether that is Leon or London Union or Chefs in Schools, they are always something I thought needed to happen.

You must think about the market: is there a way I can differentiate myself, how can I protect myself from the competition?

If you are privileged enough then the ‘guilt’ of social responsibility comes in: it is beholden on you to make business decisions that do not just make money. But this will make your life richer.

A new opportunity is to focus on national food strategy to bring together the elements of the environment, health and food security. It has been dealt with across all departments and never really had a linked up plan.

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