Allegra McEvedy MBE: The celebrated anti-celebrity

By: Kate Horstead

Date: 24 November 2009

There was much to be inspired by at the 2009 National everywoman Conference last Wednesday, but the thing that jolted most of us into unprecedented awe was an animated speech from Allegra McEvedy MBE, founder of healthy fast-food restaurant chain Leon.

McEvedy, instantly deriding the term ‘celebrity chef’, launched into a condensed story of her life, endearing us with her account of a somewhat rebellious and directionless youth marred by the death of her mother, which she spoke of frankly and without self-pity. This was followed by some time gaining experience in the restaurant industry, a stint in the United States, and some botched attempts at setting up a successful business, before finally finding success, fame and, most importantly, happiness, in the much-lauded Leon.

What we like about Allegra is her ‘real-ness’, despite the professional success, despite the MBE, and despite the Observer Food Monthly Award that she was afforded just months after opening Leon. She is warm, funny, full of life, and doesn’t seem to see herself as anything special. To most of the delegates, though, keen to make a success of their own businesses, she is pretty darn special and has an awful lot to teach them.

McEvedy reminds us that it is fine to be human and to make mistakes, in both our personal and professional lives, and that our achievements will be better for it. Openly and with humour, she puts forward the view that a successful entrepreneur is someone who has trialled and erred, and picked herself or himself back up again when things have truly hit rock bottom. Although no longer strictly an entrepreneur herself — McEvedy gave up her role in early 2009 to focus on writing and media work — she was keen to pass on her pearls of wisdom to the entrepreneurs in front of her.

Leaving the stage to a tumultuous round of applause, McEvedy left us with these top business tips to consider:

  • Remember: Graft is good
  • Take a chance to do something different
  • Know your business from the bottom up
  • Don’t ask anyone to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself
  • Don’t disconnect from your own business
  • Build a great team
  • It’s the hard times that define you
  • Don’t over-commit
  • Trust your instincts
  • Take some time out
  • Enjoy yourself

Do you agree with these tips? What would your top tips for start-ups be?


Bookmark and Share

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.