Tunbridge Wells is set to see a host of new burger restaurants open soon with Chuck & Blade and Side Street in Camden Road, and the American chain Five Guys opening round the corner in Fiveways. Sarah Bond speaks to Richard Oddy of Roddyburger on the new burger revolution…
Former Tunbridge Wells commodity broker Richard Oddy, known to everyone as ‘Roddy’, was the first person to spot a gap in Tunbridge Wells’ restaurant market back in 2020 – the lack of a good burger outlet.
And when he was made redundant after the pandemic hit, he ended up following his passion for cooking and launched a much-needed high-quality takeaway burger business in the town, which then led to his first restaurant, Roddyburger, opening earlier this summer, in May.
“I went into the pandemic without a job and with a mortgage to pay. After six months of writing for a website I decided I didn’t want a city career again, and that I needed something that I really wanted to do,” Richard says.
“I’ve always loved a burger and I figured that there were no decent burger bars or burger businesses in Tunbridge Wells. There was a McDonald’s on the industrial estate and a few pubs selling burgers, but that was it.
“I’ve also always loved to cook and always made my own burgers, and so I thought ‘right let’s go for it, let’s take the bull by the horns (so to speak!)’ I used my own delivery app and it all started from there,” he explains.
With the orders soon piling up, Richard then needed a kitchen, and with everything still locked down in December 2020, his friend Matthew Sankey was happy to let Richard rent his kitchen at Sankey’s on Mount Ephraim, and business continued to boom with both deliveries and people coming to collect their takeaways.
SERVICE Assistant manager Tom Haacke
“After three months Sankey’s reopened so I looked for another kitchen and ended up renting the kitchen at The Sussex Arms, and when everything started to open up again the business really grew. So I still do burgers from there and its sister pub The Ragged Trousers as well as from Roddyburger. And we deliver to other outlets on The Pantiles on Jazz Nights as well.”
The secret to Richard’s success is the succulent meat used in his burgers, sourced specially from well-loved and happy Welsh dairy herds, and his flair for his own home-made spicy sauces.
As a broker, he worked in Madrid for five years, hence his top burger being the Spanish-inspired ‘The Manuel’.
“I was put in touch with a fantastic beef supplier in Wales,” he explains about the brilliant beef. “They source all their beef from ex-dairy cows, so because the cows have already had a life in milking their meat has an incredible fat quality throughout. The fat is almost yellow and just bursting with flavour. It’s incredible.
“And the beef is then aged from anywhere between 30 and 40 days depending on the cut, and that goes into the mix to give it a depth of flavour, which makes it stand out against all others where the cow hasn’t really had a life,” Richard explains.
Roddyburger also has chicken burgers and wings and great side dishes, such as Beef Brisket Dirty Fries and breaded Mac & Cheese Bites. They offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, too, as well as an amazing range of milkshakes, including Kinder, Crunchie and peanut butter flavours.
“People really love the milkshakes, especially in this weather, they have been flying out of the door!” laughs Richard.
And his own favourite burger? “Ah, ‘The Gazza’, which is our most popular beef burger. It’s effectively a bacon double cheeseburger with sauce and hidden pickled onions. Or if I’m going chicken, The ‘Seoul Sandwich’, which is a Korean-style chicken thigh in sweet and spicy sauce. It is extremely crispy, with an Asian style slaw and sauce.”
But running his own booming business is not without its challenges, especially in the current economic climate with staffing problems in the hospitality industry and rising prices.
“I am looking for chefs as we speak, and that isn’t easy these days. I’m full time in the kitchen and full time running the back office as well. So it is difficult, but at the moment, needs must.
“Ideally, I could like to do fewer hours in the kitchen and then I can work driving the business forward and looking at other avenues, such as offering pop-up opportunities to other businesses on the days we are closed. The community has supported me so brilliantly in this venture that I would like to give something back,” he says.
And costs for people and businesses everywhere are increasing rapidly.
“My business model was torn up two weeks after signing the lease on the restaurant because of the situation in Ukraine. Energy prices are triple what they were under my original model and other bills are sky high because the cost of everything has gone through the roof.
“For example, the cost of buns has risen by over 50% and cooking oil has risen by 100% this year. My electricity is treble what I modelled, so it’s been incredibly tough, and we’ve done as much as we can to conserve power.
“None of these things we could forsee, but I don’t want to raise my menu prices so the margins are exceptionally tight. We do six different beef burgers with prices ranging from £11.50 to £13.50,” he explains.
But with his distinctive and flavoursome offerings, Richard has built a very loyal and large client base and loves the business, which is booming, so he’s not too worried about the rivals down the road. As well as Roddyburger and the two Pantiles pubs he also has portable kitchen equipment and caters for outside events such as festivals, sporting occasions, parties and weddings.
So Roddyburgers is looking forward to as long a life as the dairy cows.
“I don’t think people will ever go off burgers!” he laughs.
You can savour the full menu on the Roddyburger website: roddyburger.co.uk
And also opening up in Tunbridge Wells…
JUST OPENED: CHUCK & BLADE
This local restaurant chain started in Rochester and now has an outlet in Canterbury opened in Tunbridge Wells last Thursday (August 11), just down the block from Roddyburger in Camden Road.
With the venue named after cuts of beef, they promise ‘the juiciest, filthiest handmade burgers in Kent’ – as per the big boast of ‘Dirty Smash’ on a giant neon sign inside. So you can now see if they live up to their promise.
COMING SOON: FIVE GUYS
Judging from the host of great social media comments posted in the windows of the upcoming restaurant, residents of Tunbridge Wells are looking forward to the American fast food chain opening at Fiveways, in the old Closs & Hamblin (C&H) fabric shop.
With its offering of hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries,
Five Guys was named after the five brothers who launched the business in Virginia in the USA back in 1986. They aim for: ‘Burgers and Fries cooked to perfection’ – and a lively taste of Americana of course. fiveguys.co.uk
COMING A BIT LATER: SIDE STREET
Set to be taking over the former Prohibition Vapes store in Camden Road, this third new burger venue has yet to show any external signs of life, but there is plenty of room inside, so they may serve up more than just their original takeaways.
Inspired by the ‘smashburger’ concept, they promise ‘big food, big flavour’, after the founder fell in love with the food he tried in America. Smashburgers are literally ‘smashed’ down to improve the contact of the meat with the heat source. The first outlet opened in June 2020 in the northern town of Rochdale during the pandemic, so it is interesting they have chosen Tunbridge Wells for their southern presence.