Tunbridge Wells is experiencing a boom in trendy burger restaurants. Sarah Bond met Richard Oddy of the recently opened Roddy Burger on Camden Road to discover what makes his offerings a cut above the rest
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, Roddy Burger, 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.
“Richard Oddy – known to everyone as Roddy – was the first person to spot a gap in the market for a good burger business”
“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.
“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 Roddy Burger on Camden Road. 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.
“We do six different beef burgers with vegetarian and vegan options available too”
Roddy Burger 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 would 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 Roddy Burger and the two Pantiles pubs, Richard also has portable kitchen equipment and caters for outside events such as festivals, sporting occasions, parties and weddings.
So it looks like Roddy Burgers is looking forward to as long a life as the dairy cows. “I don’t think people will ever go off burgers!” laughs Richard.
Love at first bite…
Jason Stubbs put the newly opened Roddy Burger menu to the taste test – and was suitably impressed, declaring it a tasty triumph…
Having always been partial to a burger, I was delighted when SO’s editor asked me to pop along to Roddy Burger, located on Camden Road, to sample their take on this tasty classic.
I visited on a warm, sunny afternoon last month, so the large bi-folding doors at the front of the restaurant were wide open which was a great bonus.
Inside, the space is welcoming, contemporary and relaxed. I grabbed a seat facing the street, and one of the friendly members of staff brought me a menu to peruse.
As you’d expect, all of Roddy Burger’s offerings come with a range of different toppings, from the classic ‘Americano’ (£11.50) with Monterrey Jack cheese, pickles and onions to the ‘Français’ (£11.50) which adds blue cheese and garlic mushrooms to the mix. There are also veggie, vegan and chicken options on offer, but I was in the mood for something a little spicy so went for the ‘Mexicano’ (£11.50) which came topped with guacamole and jalapenos. I also ordered (quite ambitiously as it turned out) some dirty fries (£6.95) from a broad range of side dishes on offer. The Roddy Burger drinks menu offers a good selection of craft beers, ciders and wines, as well as soft drinks as milkshakes. As I had to return to the office afterwards, this time a Diet Coke had to suffice for me!
While waiting for my burger to be freshly prepared I could take in the hustle and bustle of Camden Road along with the sizzle and scent of the open kitchen at the rear of the restaurant where the staff were hard at work.
When my burger arrived it didn’t disappoint. It arrived stacked high with freshly made in-house guacamole – which was superb – and sandwiched between a fresh brioche bun. The dirty fries were equally impressive. Generous in portion size, they came topped with a thick layer of melted cheese and were sprinkled with jalapenos and smoked bacon pieces. Now I have to say that this is a side dish to be reckoned with and is probably best shared between two people as it’s very filling – although I did my best to demolish my portion!
The burger itself was a real treat, and the toppings and sauces complemented it well without overwhelming. The taste of the two beef patties was able to shine, and you could tell the burger was put together with good quality ingredients. I also noticed that it held together well without falling apart during eating.
As I worked my way through the burger, the dirty fries were a constant distraction, the bite of the jalapenos working really well with the gooeyness of the melted cheese.
By the time I’d finished I felt satisfied and full which is pretty much spot on for how a good burger should make you feel.