Ahead of the launch of BurgerFi’s flagship London store next week, chef, eco campaigner and TV personality Arthur Potts Dawson discusses the challenges of running a fast food burger restaurant with sustainable principles.
When Arthur Potts Dawson was approached by family friend Jamie Wood to get involved with the UK incarnation of BurgerFi, he had his doubts.
The Roux trained chef and Mick Jagger nephew had grown up with and worked with Wood, the son of Rolling Stone Ronnie and Jo Wood.
But he admits that for a chef who has spent a large part of his distinguished career pushing a sustainability agenda, it presented a challenge to square his principles with the workings of a US fast-food burger chain.
“Jamie gave me a call asking for advice and guidance”, Potts Dawson said. “I said, look it’s not my bag, I’m not really fast food, but I said I’d give them a hand.”
Giving board-level advice, Potts Dawson’s role is to ‘police’ BurgerFi’s sustainable credentials in the UK, mostly through procurement, logistics and supply lines.
Despite their close personal and professional relationship, this does not give BurgerFi a free pass when it comes to marketing.
“I’ve said, you’ve got to be careful about what you claim about non-hormones, and non-additive beef and compostable packaging.
“I’m very much a Jiminy Cricket on their shoulder telling them to do this and not do that.
“I think we’re doing a relatively good job at the moment. I think the market is ready for more consciously aware fast food.
“I think we’re teaching the Americans a bit too, which is great. We’re using much less preservatives, everything fresh. It’s very focused on chefs and products, whereas others are about buying cheap, selling expensive and making money for the franchise.
“I’m being tough on them. If they want me involved I’m not going to allow them to buy in any old meat and chicken, I’m strict. But that’s why they asked me to get involved.
Potts Dawson is also working with IKEA on the furniture giant’s global food procurement and logistics practises.
He argues it is only by working from the inside of big companies that he can hope to advance his agenda and change corporate behaviour.
“Sustainability is all very well in small independent restaurants, but you’ve got to get on to high street and large scale manufacturers to have an influence, otherwise the world’s is never going to change.
“The big boys will carry on doing their thing, and the smaller ones will try and be sustainable but have no influence
“Everyone’s got to change to make the world a better place.”
But can beef, with the environmental impact of feed, grazing and methane emssions, ever be sustainable? Potts Dawson doubts it, but says the impact can be mitigated.
“Beef really is the devil, you cannot claim that your’ business is sustainable with beef”, he said. “But if that’s the model, I’ll try and influence procurement, logistics, quality and price range.
“Everything is about balance. Beef is tricky, but I thought if I walk away and don’t talk about, then no one will raise awareness for it. If I’m going to work with beef it’s got to be better quality, better for producers, better for the animal.
“If you don’t take these people on and try and provide solutions then they’re just keep doing it. If you don’t take part in the conversation it will slide under the radar.”
While he believes the UK is moving in the right direction on sustainability, he warns against operators talking the talk but not walking the walk.
“I think we have to be careful it’s a not a PR agenda”, he added. “I think you just get on with it and not use it as a tool to promote business.”