30-year-old banker quit $100k role to start healthy fast food chain because he had no work-life balance

Long hours in exchange for a handsome salary is a common trade-off made by those in banking. But after three years of “brutal” analyst work for Deutsche Bank, Jonathan Recanati was ready to pack it all in and strike out on his own.

“Very often in a bank a lot of people are out for themselves. It’s mainly about the money and what bonus you’re going to get,” Recanati tells Fortune. “It just didn’t feel like I fit in. I looked at the more senior people and I thought: ‘I don’t want to be you’.”

While “slaving away” from the early hours until late and eating three meals a day at his desk—dominated by soggy shop-bought sandwiches—Recanati says he had his lightbulb moment

“I realized there was a major gap in the market,” Recanati recalls. And that formed the early premise for his business, Farmer J, a fast food chain that serves locally sourced, healthy food.

“Most of the people I spoke to told me not to do it,” he laughs.

Inspired by Chipotle

Recanati drew inspiration from the triumph of fast-casual brands in the U.S., notably Chipotle, and started working on his brand proposition while still employed at Deutsche Bank.

Just a month after tossing the towel in on his banking job at 30-years-old, he impressed a private investor with the promise that Farmer J could replicate the Mexican grill’s success and started trialing menu items at pop-up supper clubs.

With around £850,000 ($990,000) in backing— 50% of which came from the investor and the rest from family, friends and his own savings—Farmer J was able to open its doors for the first time on Leadenhall Street, central London in 2014, just around the block from his previous employer.

“The biggest sacrifice is you go from the safety net of a big bank to nothing,” he says, adding that he was earning around $100,000 at Deutsche Bank.

But fast forward 10 years and business is booming. 

With 10 branches spread around the U.K. capital, sales hit £18 million (nearly $23 million) last year and Farmer J has gained a handful of celebrity customers, including musician Dua Lipa and Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan. 

5 a.m. wake-ups and no out-of-office—even on honeymoon

However, one thing the 39-year-old has not found since quitting the banking world to become his own boss is the work-life balance he dreamed of.

In fact, it’s probably as far away as it’s ever been.

Recanati’s day starts early. “I have three little kids,” he explains.

Since becoming a dad to twins in 2020, he’s joined the 5 a.m. club and takes turns doing kids’ drop-off with his wife—who also works at Farmer J in marketing.

From there, Recanati heads straight to work. Some days he’s based at the company’s Covent Garden office, other days he scopes out potential site locations or meets with general managers.

“That’s what I like about my job, it’s not like I sit in the office all day and then go home,” the entrepreneur adds.

Despite encouraging office workers in the capital to carve out time for a balanced meal at Farmer J’s, the CEO barely gets time for lunch himself.

Recanati—who studied at the specialist hospitality university École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) in Switzerland—aims to be home between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to spend some time with his kids before their bedtime and then carries on working late into the night.

“Very often I’ll be emailing after they go to sleep,” he adds, with the caveat that he’ll switch off on the weekends with the family—or if it’s date night with his wife. 

But it wasn’t always that way.

One of Recanati’s “biggest regrets” is cutting his honeymoon short in 2018 because Farmer J was launching a second restaurant. 

“I felt like I needed to be there and make sure that we were preparing properly for the opening,” he recalls. “In hindsight, I would never do that. But when you’re in the thick of it, you lose perspective.” 

That being said, you still won’t catch him turning his out-of-office on when he goes on vacation. 

“If I switch off, I’m basically not pursuing my goals,” Recanati explains, adding that his ambitions for Famer J’s future are always at the back of his mind.

“But if you enjoy doing it, it doesn’t feel like work,” he adds.

“You’re creating value for yourself, for your investors, for your employees—there’s so many things going through your head, it’s not just about ‘What’s my next bonus?’”

Don’t wait until becoming a parent to gain perspective

For most founders, their business is their baby—and it took having children for Recanati to realize that really, it’s not.

His advice to entrepreneurs is don’t wait until the day you become a parent to gain perspective on what matters most in life. 

“It’s really hard because that’s your life—it’s all you care about,” he says.

“You have to enjoy the moments outside of work,” he adds. “Don’t miss out on the moments with your family and friends. I did and I regret it.”

After a decade of grinding—and the success to show for it—when will Famer J’s founder finally slow down to enjoy the fruits of his labor?

First, Recanati says he’d like to expand to at least 50 restaurants in the U.K. before considering kicking up his feet. 

But then he carefully reconsiders: “I want to build five restaurants this year, eight next year, and I want to have at least one open and working in the U.S. 

“So I guess maybe in two years I can say that I’ve done that and maybe I could relax,” he pauses, before swiftly adding: “Or think about the next two years.”

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