Tom Bickers left school at 16, is set to marry his childhood sweetheart and has built his thriving burger business from scratch.
Now the 29-year-old is launching his restaurant Truffle Burger in his home town of Stoke Newington – it’s his second bricks-and-mortar restaurant (his other is in Soho). He also has a converted shipping container on the Southbank and a branch at Seven Dials Market.
They’re launching in Stokey with a bang – half price burgers this weekend (July 30 and 31) and on Monday August 1 they’ll be giving away 500 free burgers to the first customers through the door.
The arrival of Truffle Burger is a huge transformation of a former takeaway pizza restaurant on Stoke Newington Church Street. Tom’s best friend Connor Leport has transformed the building, creating space for 28 covers on the ground floor with an open kitchen and space for events in the basement. There’s a serving hatch accessed via a side alley for delivery drivers.
Tom told See you in Stokey: “I’ve been living in Stoke Newington since September and love the neighbourhood. Our other businesses in Soho and the Southbank largely attract an office crowd and tourists so we’ve been keen to open somewhere with a strong sense of community. We want to build something here for generations – we hope that the teenagers we feed here now will bring their own kids to Truffle Burger in years to come.”
Tom grew up in Essex and worked in kitchens from the age of 14. He came to work in London as a teenager, landing jobs in a string of Michelin restaurants for chefs from Tom Aikens to Gordon Ramsey.
He added: “I always see my time in those kitchens as a kind of military service! It was all good fun and I learnt a lot and built some good relationships but there was an entrepreneur in me keen to do more.”
He went on to work in recruitment; first in the hospitality sector and then oil and gas. And then, as he contemplated going back to being a chef, his friends convinced him to do his own thing.
He added: “I’d saved some money and invested £12,000 into a van and cooking equipment and launched Truffle, a street-food business at Kerb.”
In the early days Truffle served a range of truffle-infused dishes, from risotto to steaks but, after a series of pub residencies, Tom quickly saw the demand was greatest for his truffle burgers and decided to make that his niche.
He later invested everything he had into the shipping container at Southbank and thankfully, despite a wet opening weekend, it was a roaring success.
They survived the pandemic by launching at-home burger kits and a mention on Sunday Brunch helped make sure orders rocketed.
Tom added: “When it happened, we thought Coronavirus was the end of the world for our business but it turned out to be good for us because the bigger players had to consolidate their portfolios and the cost of acquiring a lease dropped. Pre 2020 it would have cost us hundreds of thousands to secure a restaurant lease in central London. With a big shift to neighbourhood, we were able to double down and pick up beautiful sites for a fraction of the price in order to grow. We took the risk in unprecedented times and sat out the storm.”
Tom came across the Stoke Newington building by accident in January when it was wrongly listed among warehouse spaces - they had been searching for warehouse space to house their stock and vans.
Truffle Burger employs a staff of 70. They have a licence to sponsor people from overseas so, as well as lots of British born employees, they have talented staff from Senegal, Poland, Nepal and other parts of the world.
The menu includes their trademark Cheeseburger with truffle burger sauce, a Truffalo Chicken Burger (buttermilk chicken thigh with a truffle and parmesan glaze, white slaw and pickles) and a Veggie Burger with smoked cheese, fig jam and truffle mayo. Gluten-free options are available.
Tom is looking forward to marrying his childhood sweetheart Clemmy in the next couple of years (as soon as they can find the time) and, when he’s not working, he loves riding his motorbike.
He added: “We’re so excited to be in Stoke Newington. We hope people try our food and love it! We’re an independently-owned business and always will be!”