Introducing LEON, the vendor that proves that a fast-food chain can serve tasty food while also being natural. LEON believes that the food going into you should be nutritious and good for you, even if it’s a quick meal on the go. Erica Molyneaux, Head of Food at LEON, tells us all about LEON’s origin story and how sustainability and nutrition have always been their main goal.
Read our short Q&A with Erica to learn more about what differs LEON from other fast-food chains.
Q: What’s the inspiration behind your business?
A: We founded LEON to make it easier for people to eat well, live well and be kind to the planet. We believe that food should taste good and do you good – we take our inspiration from the Mediterranean diet, which does exactly that. It’s full of plants, fresh herbs, spices, good fats from olive oil, seeds and nuts and well-sourced meat.
Q: Where are you from and how has that shaped your business?
A: We opened our first ever LEON on London’s iconic Carnaby Street in 2004. For many years our openings were focused in and around London. However, we have continued to grow and in recent years we have expanded into travel hubs from airports to stations nationwide, alongside restaurants in regional towns and cities like Manchester, Oxford and Bath.
We want to make our Naturally Fast Food accessible to as many people as possible.
Q: How important is sustainability in your general practices? e.g. ingredient sourcing, plant-based meals, etc.
A: Our mission is, and always has been to make food that is better for you, and better for the planet.
A significant amount of our menu is vegan or vegetarian and the focus is on those dishes being as tasty as they can be. And with meat, the emphasis is on serving less but better quality and using plants to fill the gap. We celebrate local and seasonal; we choose more plants and better meat, and we source responsibly.
Sustainability is at the heart of the LEON business and that’s why we’ve committed to being Net Zero by 2030. We’ve invested a lot of time in finding a better way to do business, but we know there’s a lot more we can do, including our next aim of becoming carbon neutral. We’re cutting the emissions in our restaurants by using 100% renewable power and have switched from gas to electric cooking. Of the 13 burgers we’ve had on our menu this year 6 have been vegan, giving our customers a wide range of naturally lower carbon products to choose from. Carbon offsetting forms just one part of our strategy to tackle the emissions we can’t currently avoid.
Q: How would you describe your food in 5 words?
A: Delicious. Inclusive. Fast. Ethical. Plant-forward
Q: What’s your favourite meal on your menu?
A: The LEON Roasted Veg boxes are updated seasonally to celebrate in-season, local produce. We developed these boxes in 2020 and they have been really popular. They are a customer favourite for those looking for a nutritious and filling lunch. My favourite is the chicken, marinated in paprika dressed with a seasoned and spiced herby zhug dressing and garlic aioli.
Q: What should we order from you when…
…. we feel Indulgent?
A: Korean Burger plus a side of our signature Baked Waffle Fries
…. we crave something healthy?
A: Chicken Roasted Veg+ Box which is 2 of your 5 a day, high in protein, under 400 calories
… we want to celebrate?
A: Cakes are for celebrating, treat yourself with a Better Brownie
Q: What is your top tip for eating better when at work?
A: Ensure you take a proper lunch break, time away from your screen and take a walk when you can. Try to concentrate on what you’re eating – there’s research to suggest that mindfully eating your food means you are less likely to overeat, plus you get to really enjoy all the flavours too.
Q: What’s the ingredient you always find yourself reaching for when you’re cooking at home?
A: It is so hard to pick one ingredient but I like cooking with Extra virgin olive oil. It’s one of those foods that is delicious but also has many health benefits. It contains high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, mostly oleic acid, which is a proven anti-inflammatory and has been linked to an improvement in heart health through these anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also teeming with antioxidants, which have been linked to improving a whole host of chronic health conditions. It’s also a prominent ingredient on the LEON menu and always features in our LEON recipe books, our most recent release is Happy Guts which was published this June.
Also, the Aioli from our LEON Grocery range (which you can purchase via our restaurants too) is a larder essential. With its rich, full flavour, aioli (or garlic mayo) has been at the heart of LEON restaurant menus since 2004.
Not only can you boost your burger, sandwich or wrap, but this versatile garlic mayo can also be added to salads and pasta sauces, or stirred through cooked vegetables, such as mushrooms, for a quick and easy creamy garlic flavour.
All the sauces in our Grocery range are made with faba bean instead of egg, making them vegan friendly too.
Q: What’s your favourite thing to do in your area?
A: I’ve recently moved to Forest Gate and so I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring the local area. I wouldn’t be a true foodie if I didn’t say the highlight was finding new restaurants – Giovanna’s Italian deli is amazing, Tracks cafe and the Fiore pasta truck are the highlights I’ve found so far.
Q: When you’re not in the kitchen…
A: I love walking. Getting out of London or on a trip out to the countryside and taking a long walk and finishing with a lovely lunch in a country pub is my heaven.
Q: Do you have any stories to share about helping the local community during the pandemic?
A: In response to the pandemic, LEON launched Feed Britain which provided a route to market for suppliers whose revenues have been severely impacted by Covid-19. The produce available through Feed Britain was previously destined for restaurants, hotels and first-class airport lounges. From £2.70 per meal, customers were able to enjoy access to seasonal produce and artisan quality meals in their own homes delivered directly from New Covent Garden Market.
In addition, Feed Britain supported the NHS and other key workers in the frontline of the Covid-19 outbreak by donating 100 percent of all profits to FeedNHS; the initiative launched by Matt Lucas, Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory and LEON to feed one hot, healthy meal a day to NHS critical care workers.
Q: What are your post-Covid-19 resolutions?
A: Eating well! Concentrating on eating for immunity and really focusing on gut health, with a diet rich in live yoghurts, fibre and a variety of fruit and vegetables – I’m always trying to eat more than 5 a day! Spend lots of time with friends and family, my family are in the North and it’s been difficult to see them. Covid has made me realise the importance of seeing them regularly.
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