Strictly speaking, neither of their papas is a Rolling Stone. Yet it’s surely no coincidence that the US “ethical” fast food chain BurgerFi chose to entrust their British franchise operation to two card-carrying members of the huge and still-growing brood of Stones offspring. Jamie Wood and Arthur Potts Dawson have had “a cousin relationship” since they were kids listening to Brown Sugar backstage in the Seventies and Eighties, where other members of their on-tour kindergarten included Karis Jagger and Marlon Richards.
Wood, 42, was adopted as a toddler by the Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, after his mother, Jo, a model and a devotee of organic food, left his father, Peter Greene; he calls Ronnie “Dad”. A self-confessed “hustler” and former art dealer, Wood last year persuaded Burgerfi’s chief executive John Rosatti to let him bring the brand — with its recycled furniture, veggie options and unadulterated beef — to Britain. He enlisted Potts Dawson, 46, an eco-chef, restaurateur and all-round green genie, to be his “sustainability policeman”.
Potts Dawson’s father, Rufus, is an artist who lived on a farm, but he grew up in Highgate, north London, with his mother, Kari-Ann Moller, a model who featured on the cover of Roxy Music’s first album, and his stepfather, Chris Jagger, the musician brother of Mick. Got that?
There is also, improbably, a healthy-eating thread that unites the band and its womenfolk. Potts Dawson says that his mum was into organic food “from day one. Mum influenced Jerry Hall on organics, and I think Jerry influenced Jo.” Later, Wood says, Jo converted the entire band and crew to organic eating. During their marriage, I seem to recall, she also got Ron to smoke organic cigarettes.
Anyway, I meet Wood and Potts Dawson at the first central London BurgerFi, which opens next week and sits under the unlovely postwar slab of the largest hotel in the UK, the Royal National near Euston. They have another outlet, in Wembley, but that is used mostly for training staff and franchisees who will roll the brand out across the UK: eight branches are planned for London, but Wood has also “been to Newcastle [and] been looking in Birmingham” for locations. I interview them separately because when they are briefly together they lapse into “bantz” about the respective footballing merits of Arsenal (Wood) and Tottenham (Potts Dawson).
Wood, trim, vulpine and cockney-accented, is tired. His 18-month-old son with his wife, Jodie, is “a nightmare child: doesn’t eat properly, doesn’t sleep properly. It’s probably my fault because I do like to have cuddles so I bring him into the bed.” He has two older boys, Leo and Kobe, with Jodie (a former model) and another 17-year-old son, Charlie, with a former girlfriend. He reaches back to his childhood, which he shared with his step-siblings Leah, Tyrone and Jessie, to explain his new move.
“When I was a kid, we had normal food at home, and we had family night where Mum would take us to McDonald’s on a Thursday,” he says. “I’m talking when I was 11, 12 years old. I used to love bad food, boil-in-the-bag curry and all that. One day I came home and it had all changed.” Jo had been misdiagnosed with Crohn’s disease (she actually had a perforated appendix) and changed the whole family’s diet as a result. “There was no McDonald’s, no crackers — it was all organic and natural,” he scowls. “I wasn’t impressed I have to say.” As an adult he started buying organic and realised he liked it.
In 2000 Ronnie, Jo and Jamie asked Arthur, who was then working at the River Café and already “followed the message of sustainability”, to run the kitchen at Ronnie’s club, the Harrington in South Kensington. Later, in 2010 Arthur worked with Jo and Jamie on Mrs Paisley’s Lashings, a charitable organic pop-up at the Wood family home in Kingston. In between all this, Jamie worked in the art world, helping Ron to sell prints of his paintings at Stones gigs and opening the Scream gallery in Mayfair (it closed last year). He maintained good relations with both parents when Ronnie left Jo in 2008 and dated a string of younger women, finally marrying Sally Humphreys, who is 31 years his junior, in 2012; they had twin daughters, nicknamed “the Ronettes”, last year.
Needing a new venture, Jamie had an epiphany when he and Jodie took their children to Miami with his mum. They went to a branch of BurgerFi, which is one of the fastest-growing burger outlets in the US with more than 100 branches, from New York to Alaska. “You’re not going to ever catch Mum eating food,” he says, “but she walked into BurgerFi and ordered a quinoa burger with a lettuce bun. I had never seen a lettuce bun. Also, my wife doesn’t like carbs, so a lettuce bun was incredible. To see them both eat was amazing.” He realised that “the only way you are going to communicate this [organic] message to people is through the masses” and within weeks struck a handshake deal to bring BurgerFi to London.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ronnie eat, but then again, I think eating’s bad
Did he ask his dad for help? “No, I can’t do the family-working thing. I’ve done that with the Harrington, with the gallery. It’s time to stand on my own two feet now.” He and his business partner, Constantine Kulukundis, who is “my brother Tyrone’s best mate from school” and a scion of a shipping family, have so far largely self-funded the operation. “I have some Russians, uh, some Russian friends, one of my best mates has put a little bit of money in, but mainly it’s me and Constantine,” he says vaguely. This explains why their “flagship” is in studenty Russell Square rather than Soho or Covent Garden. “Know how much them premiums are?” Jamie asks me, aghast.
He returns to BurgerFi’s ethical credentials. “I can bring my children here and it’s guilt-free,” he says. Hmm. Whatever its sustainable credentials, it’s hard to see a fast food burger joint as morally superior. Even the chain’s central claim in America — that its beef is “never ever” tampered with — is true of McDonald’s here. “I’m not too sure about other brands and other stuff,” says Jamie. “I can’t really comment with full knowledge without making a mistake.”
When I ask him if Ronnie is a foodie he gives a wheezy laugh (having given up drugs 22 years ago, Jamie is “a very sober person” but has only just swapped cigarettes for vaping). “I don’t think so,” he grins. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him eat, but then again, I think eating’s bad.” Recently he’s had to test a lot of burgers, but normally he lifts weights in the gym three times a week, “then I have a protein shake and then usually I won’t eat. I’ll maybe have a snack during the day, and then a decent dinner.”
Wood is frank and apparently guileless. Nominally Buddhist, he descants on religion (“I was Jewish for a bit, Catholic for a bit”) until an assistant steers him back to burgers. Of his new stepmum he says: “I love Sally. Sally is a good woman.” Of his stepsisters Gracie and Alice, who join Jagger’s new son, Devereaux, in the new generation of Stones spawn, he says: “It’s nice to know they are there. I often wonder what they will think of me when they hear the stories of the Seventies and Eighties when I was a kid backstage. But as long as they come and have a burger and spread the word around the world, I’ll be happy.” As he makes way for Potts Dawson, he recommends a thriller I should read.
Echoing Wood’s line, Potts Dawson says he joined the venture because “if you’re gonna get sustainability into the mainstream, you’ve got to join the big boys”. He’s been working with Ikea for two years on making every aspect of their food offer, from procurement to the meatballs steaming in their 400 stores, more ethical. BurgerFi was another chance to “look at how beef is reared, managed from field to slaughter, from slaughter to kitchen”. Part of his job has been to source equivalent ingredients for the American menu, which is replicated here, although he is also devising a chicken burger that the Americans don’t have.
The head chef of BurgerFi in London is Lloyd Hayes, 33, whom Potts Dawson trained at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in 2004 and 2005 and has worked with ever since. BurgerFi was founded by chefs and is “chef-led”, he says, although Rosatti, who made much of his fortune from car dealerships, has said that the business sprang from the huge popularity of the burgers sold at another of his ventures, a gastropub at Delray Beach, Florida, called the Office.
Potts Dawson, who doesn’t drink or smoke, has devised a food programme for the UN, founded the People’s Supermarket and the organic-juice company Juiceman and runs two eco-restaurants, Acorn House and Water House, in London. He lives in Bristol with his partner, Paloma, and their two children, who have never had a McDonald’s or a KFC, but whom he would happily allow a BurgerFi — once a month or so.
The secret, he says, is about balancing “your calories with your lifestyle”. As if on cue, a burger called the CEO, involving two patties of mixed brisket and wagyu beef, truffle aioli and tomato-bacon jam, arrives for me to try. Potts Dawson points at it: “If you sat down and ate that, some fries and a shake, dude, you’re gonna have to hit the gym,” he says. “But knowing that is the important part of it.”
BurgerFi, 40-42 Woburn Place, London, WC1; burgerfi.com