It seems fitting that the man who describes himself as the “burger guy” began his career in McDonald’s, nearly 30 years ago. Tim Lowther left school at 16, having decided not to do A-levels and go to university. “I wanted to start earning my millions straight away, so I went to work at McDonald’s in Bognor Regis as a crew member.”
Lowther was propelled through the management ranks and nine years later he was running his own store. His next career move was to TGI Friday’s, where he spent three years. “McDonald’s taught me all I knew about how to run a business and how to serve people quickly in a fast-food environment. McDonald’s was, ‘bring ’em in, serve ’em food, take ’em out and bring some more people in,'” he explains. “Friday’s showed me how to go from looking after people in a quick turnaround business to spending time giving great service to those people. It was, ‘bring people in, give them a great experience and make them want to come back for more’. Friday’s was really how I learned how restaurants were run.”
Next stop on the burger belt was SSP and then Compass Group, where he worked for Burger King. “That’s where my career took off,” he says. “I went from looking after one Burger King to two, to ten, to 30. I moved to Germany and helped set up the Burger King business for SSP in the German train stations for a couple of years.” He lived in Frankfurt for nearly two years but his job took him to every corner of the country. The travel and hard graft paid off. “When I joined, there were two Burger Kings that weren’t doing very well and when I left it just under two years later there were 18 very successful Burger Kings across the German market.” And that wasn’t the only feather in Lowther’s cap: “I could finally speak German when I left.”
In 2006, he took a break from burgers, becoming international brand development manager for coffee chain Caffe Ritazza. His globetrotting adventures began again in earnest as he took on responsibility for 200 cafes in 20 countries. “I did a lot of travelling and it was great. I don’t do so much now and that’s great too. People always say that travelling is great fun and I would endorse that. It opens your horizons, going round to all different countries and understanding how different people work,” says Lowther. “We live in a very multicultural society; having been to a lot of countries has certainly helped me and will continue to help me in the future with the teams I work with.”
After a year and eight months, he went back to the grill – or at least back to burgers. He joined Burger King on the franchise side, helping the company find new franchisees across Europe, in countries including the UK, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.”
It was four years ago that Lowther’s journey into the ‘better burger’ market began, when he was approached to help launch US burger sensation Shake Shack in Covent Garden. It was a fast-food chain launch like no other: it saw hungry punters queue outside on the square’s cobbled streets to await a taste of its meaty treats and infamous cheese fries. His oeuvre caught the eye of the bigwigs at Five Guys, who invited him to assist in their launch into the north of England. Which just about brings us up-to-date.
“Now I find myself where I am,” says Lowther. And that’s spearheading the UK launch of Smashburger, a US better burger franchise, after the rights were acquired by MSG Group. “I met with Tom Ryan, the founder of Smashburger, at the end of last year. Tom was the most inspirational guy,” says Lowther. “Within five minutes of meeting him in Denver, I was in the kitchen smashing burgers. I’ve met many founders and many creators of businesses but Tom was the first one to say, ‘come on Tim, let’s go smash a burger in the kitchen.'”