Expat Entrepreneurs: Leharo’s Smashed Burgers and Kindness With A South African Touch
Melis Karabulut’s series profiles some of Brno’s foreign entrepreneurs to explore the challenges of running a business in a foreign country. This week, she shares the inspiring story of Leharo, the restaurant in Brno-Kohoutovice owned by a South African and Moravian couple. Photo credit: Lloyd Pitcher.
Lately, the world is going through difficult times. Just as the global pandemic felt like it was receding, Europe hears the sirens signaling another war even more horrifying than COVID-19. Among the heartbreaking news filling up our readers’ feeds, I believe that we need stories that bring a bit of hope into our lives. This week’s story of Leharo aims to give our audience a breather, highlighting the inspiring entrepreneurial journey of Lloyd Pitcher and Katerina Andresicova, who have transported some of the authentic comfort food recipes of the United States to Brno.
The first Leharo restaurant, which serves as the foundation of their business plan, opened on 9 July 2017, just a few steps away from the Aquapark in Kohoutovice, specializing in burgers, steaks, salads and wraps. In the beginning of 2022, the owners opened Bistro Leharo on Hybesova, where they offer their legacy menu with a little more credit to fried chicken. Brought to life by chef Lloyd Pitcher and his partner Katerina Andresicova, with the ultimate support of Veronika Andresicova and Jana Lavrik; Leharo has become a popular restaurant in Kohoutovice for its easy-going environment and friendly staff, reflecting the name of the restaurant, which means ‘chill’ in Czech.
The owners enjoy getting their products locally, in partnership with Czech suppliers and Mama Stella – a Greek bakery previously highlighted in this series – who bake breads for some of Leharo’s recipes. The restaurant has taken part in many competitions with burger restaurants in Brno and across the country to showcase their main product, ‘smashed burgers’, and their other gourmet treats. In total, Leharo has 16 local and international employees at the moment, and the owners are planning to employ more team members soon. The restaurant has a delivery partnership with Wolt that operates mainly from the Hybesova branch, while the Kohoutovice restaurant is able to serve more than 100 people at the same time.
Leharo’s chef Lloyd, who has worked in many different countries in Europe as a culinary professional, focuses on North American cuisine. He owns the righteous honor of bringing Kentucky’s smashed burgers to Brno with his own touch. “When it comes to making your name stand out among many fast food restaurants, you need to offer something unique,” he says. “That is why we offer smashed burgers that are juicier yet crispier. The meat has to be very thin and pressed down in order to make as many crispy spots as you can. The burger gets to a gourmet-level taste as the protein breaks down into smaller compounds. We have been developing the recipe over long years, and I believe we are the only restaurant offering smashed burgers in Brno!” Their plan is to showcase the smashed burgers at the next burger restaurant in Brno, as many people don’t know the concept and avoid ordering it.
His menu highlights traditional U.S. burger recipes, along with twists like the pineapple burger or halloumi burger. At the same time, Lloyd adds that burgers are ‘a big thing’ in South Africa in their own way, and the cuisine – and accordingly his cooking – is influenced in a multi-continental spectrum, which allows him to reflect his own story in his food, and present something of his own. Some of the recipes are combined with Lloyd’s legacy product, potato bread, which gives a much better insight into the chef’s work.
Leharo in the Making
Katerina, a Moravian, and Lloyd, a South African, met in the Isles of Scilly off south-west England around ten years ago. They each have more than fifteen years of experience in the service sector, Lloyd’s rather focused on the kitchen and Katerina on housekeeping and management. By total coincidence, their employment at a service facility in Scilly started on the same day. Their connection got stronger as they got to know each other, and they brought their lives together as a couple. After five years of working in Scilly, they moved to Les Gets, France, a skiing resort where Lloyd worked as a chef and Katerina as a housekeeper. While they enjoyed their life traveling and discovering new places, they always had the dream of opening their own place where Lloyd could evangelize his recipes and Katerina could work as the manager of the restaurant.
In 2017, as they visited Katerina’s family near Brno for holidays, her sister Veronika brought them the good news of a vacant restaurant in Kohoutovice that could be the place to start the business of their dreams. “I had a very good feeling about this place,” says Katerina. “It was big, warm, and from the first second it felt like we just had to take it. The kitchen was huge, gastro-professional and we simply fell in love with it. We initially thought of opening a restaurant in Les Gets, but it was impossible as it was a very expensive place, and Brno seemed open to something new. We dived in, with little funds in hand, but we believed that we would succeed. In the end, we did.” Even before they were able to move their lives to the Czech Republic, the couple immediately rented the place to secure the spot. Soon after that, they started repairing, building, and decorating the restaurant to make it their own.
Leharo’s Today, Shaped by Kindness
Leharo in Kohoutovice became more and more successful over the years, and became a well-known and sought-after place to treat yourself to a good meal for the stomach and soul. Even though the business struggled in the first couple of years and the owners had to invest a lot of money and energy into it, the efforts paid off. “At first, the whole responsibility of the kitchen was on me,” says Lloyd. “From cooking to washing dishes, from preparing sauces to desserts.”
When I ask about the main source of the success of their business, the couple says “We owe it to food, yet more to the food for the soul. Many people have probably experienced that customers do not get kind treatment from restaurant staff in the Czech Republic. Having worked abroad and seeing different styles of restaurant management, we wanted to present a good example of putting the customer first and giving them a good experience of visiting us. Not only with food, but also with a smile. A smile goes a long way. If you want your customers to keep coming back to you and supporting you, just ask them about their day while you take orders. Tell them a quick joke. Treat them with respect and kindness. I guarantee you, they will come back. And you will not fail in the hardest days.”
Lloyd adds that “When the pandemic hit, we were not severely affected as our regular customers kept on ordering. Seventy percent of our business was supported by our regulars, and our regulars’ friends during the most difficult days. Of course we struggled like any other business, but today we are able to open our second Leharo. We also delivered free food to nursing homes, the police, hospitals… Anyone in service who could enjoy a good warm bite. We prepared approximately 25 extra portions each day for this aim. Our regulars saw that, and they contributed even more. Knowing that we stood on good grounds helped us to believe in what we do more. This is how we didn’t need to fire any employees during the pandemic as well.”
He finishes by stating, “Our food is good, but it tastes better because we treat the ones who prepare it with kindness, and the ones who eat it. The same principles apply in Leharo’s kitchen and management. When our employees are happy, the customers will be so. We give our employees space to learn cooking, develop themselves and be a part of us as much as they want to be.”
Opening Hours & Location
Both restaurants are open every day from 11am to 10.30pm.
All photos: Credit – Lloyd Pitcher.