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Former Banker, 30, Leaves $100k Job to Launch Health-Focused Fast Food Chain

Long hours in return for an attractive salary is a typical compromise often made by individuals in the banking sector. However, after enduring three years of demanding work as an analyst at Deutsche Bank, Jonathan Recanati was prepared to abandon this routine and venture out on his own.

“In many banking environments, self-interest prevails. It primarily revolves around financial gains and the anticipation of bonuses,” Recanati shares with Fortune. “I simply didn’t feel like I belonged. Observing the more senior staff, I couldn’t envision myself becoming like them.”

Working tirelessly from dawn till dusk, consuming all three meals at his desk—mostly consisting of limp store-bought sandwiches—Recanati had an epiphany.

“I identified a significant market vacuum,” Recanati recollects. This realization laid the groundwork for his brainchild, Farmer J, a fast-food chain specializing in locally sourced, nutritious cuisine.

“Most people I consulted advised against it,” he chuckles.

Taking Cues from Chipotle

Recanati found inspiration in the success of fast-casual brands in the United States, particularly Chipotle, and began formulating his brand’s proposition while still employed at Deutsche Bank.

Merely a month after resigning from his banking position at the age of 30, he captivated a private investor with the vision that Farmer J could emulate the achievements of the Mexican grill. Subsequently, he started experimenting with menu offerings at pop-up supper clubs.

With approximately £850,000 ($990,000) in financial backing—half of which originated from the investor and the remainder from family, friends, and his personal savings—Farmer J inaugurated its first establishment on Leadenhall Street in central London in 2014, conveniently close to his former workplace.

“The most significant sacrifice is transitioning from the security of a major bank to uncertainty,” he remarks, noting that he was earning roughly $100,000 at Deutsche Bank.

Fast forward a decade, and the business is thriving.

Having expanded to 10 branches across the U.K. capital, Farmer J recorded sales of £18 million (almost $23 million) last year, attracting several celebrity patrons, including musician Dua Lipa and Fifty Shades of Grey actor Jamie Dornan.

Early Mornings and an Always-On Work Ethic

Nevertheless, since departing from the banking realm to become his own boss, the 39-year-old entrepreneur has yet to achieve the work-life balance he aspired to.

In reality, it seems further out of reach than ever before.

Recanati’s day kicks off early. “I have three young children,” he explains.

Following the arrival of twins in 2020, he shares drop-off duties with his wife—who also holds a position in marketing at Farmer J—before heading straight to work. Some days are spent at the company’s Covent Garden office, while others involve scouting potential site locations or meeting with general managers.

“I appreciate the diversity in my role; it’s not confined to the office environment,” the CEO remarks.

Despite advocating for office workers in London to prioritize balanced meals at Farmer J’s, the CEO himself barely finds time for lunch.

Recanati, an alumnus of the specialized hospitality institution École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) in Switzerland, strives to return home between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to spend quality time with his children before their bedtime, continuing to work late into the night.

“More often than not, I find myself responding to emails after their bedtime,” he reveals, emphasizing that he dedicates weekends to family time or date nights with his wife.

However, there are regrets.

Recanati considers cutting short his honeymoon in 2018 a significant misstep, driven by the impending launch of a second Farmer J restaurant.

“I felt compelled to be present and ensure our preparations for the opening were on track,” he reflects. “In hindsight, I wouldn’t make the same decision. But in the heat of the moment, perspective can be lost.”

Nonetheless, he remains steadfast in his commitment, refraining from activating his out-of-office message even during vacations.

“Switching off equates to stalling my progress,” Recanati explains, underscoring that his aspirations for Farmer J’s future are ever-present in his thoughts.

“If you derive satisfaction from it, it doesn’t feel burdensome,” he adds.

“You’re adding value for yourself, your investors, your employees—there are numerous considerations at play, not solely focused on ‘What’s my next bonus?’”

Gaining Insight Beyond Entrepreneurship

For many founders, their business is akin to a child—and it took parenthood for Recanati to recognize that it isn’t.

His counsel to fellow entrepreneurs is to not wait until parenthood to grasp the essence of life’s priorities.

“It’s undeniably challenging because your business consumes your life—it’s your top priority,” he acknowledges.

“Appreciate moments outside of work,” he advises. “Don’t overlook valuable time with family and friends. I did, and I rue that decision.”

After a decade of relentless effort—and the subsequent success—when will the founder of Farmer J finally seize the opportunity to savor the rewards of his labor?

Initially, Recanati envisions expanding to a minimum of 50 restaurants in the U.K. before contemplating relaxation.

However, upon careful deliberation, he adjusts his timeline: “My goal is to establish five restaurants this year, eight the next, with a vision of launching and operating at least one branch in the U.S. within two years.”

“Perhaps then I can consider taking a breather,” he muses, before swiftly adding, “or start planning for the subsequent two years.”