Finalists

We are delighted to announce our 2021 finalists.


Dishoom

Indian restaurant concept Dishoom did not let the extraordinary events of 2020 hamper its ambitions. In the year of its tenth anniversary, the business completed a major redesign and expansion of its original Covent Garden site, launched an all-new restaurant in Birmingham, and confounded popular expectations (as well as its own) with a delivery service roll-out with Deliveroo Editions. Since its conception, Dishoom’s carefully curated expansion strategy, dedication to design and strong staff culture has seen it emerge as an undisputed industry darling. Awarded Best Concept for the second time in 2019, this year the group has earned its place on the Best Company shortlist.

Hawksmoor

Will Beckett and Huw Gott launched premium steak concept Hawksmoor in 2006, and over the last 14 years have grown the group in size and status, now boasting eight UK sites, with a debut US site planned for New York next year. Hawksmoor’s excellence has not gone unnoticed at the Retailers’ Retailer awards, its Covent Garden restaurant winning Best Venue in 2011 and Beckett and Gott receiving recognition in the Rising Star award in 2013. In 2014, Hawksmoor was awarded Best Company for the first time, and this year Hawksmoor’s ability to adapt in the face of the crisis, whilst maintaining a core focus on its people, has seen it shortlisted once again.

Oakman Inns and Restaurants

Despite the unprecedented trading conditions of 2020, Oakman Inns and Restaurants saw its highest ever sales quarter in history this year, upping sales on summer 2019 by 40.6%. Whilst many of its competitors were exiting sites, Oakman announced plans to double its estate over the next five years, and opened up the sale of shares to its customer base for the first time. More recently, the group pledged to forego its latest lockdown grant, and offered its venues to be used as vaccination centres in return. For its efforts in utilising its own success to further industry recovery, Oakman is up for this year’s Best Company award.

Loungers

The resilience of Loungers’ community-based proposition has never been more apparent than during the coronavirus crisis. Holding on to profit through a nationwide lockdown, Loungers’ all-day, flexible offer and focus on secondary high street locations proved valuable as city-workers returned to the suburbs seven days a week. While operators up and down the country accrued eyewatering rental debt, Loungers was able to resume its roll-out strategy in the latter half of last year, opening new sites under its Cosy Club and Lounge brands. Outperforming the market and standing steady in the most of uncertain of times, Loungers has been shortlisted for the Best Company award.

McDonald’s

Best Company Through each stage of the crisis, McDonald’s has continued to meet demand through its drive-thru, takeaway and delivery services. The business implemented sweeping changes to its operations in order to remain open in the second lockdown, expanded its home delivery to a further 500 sites last year and has since launched a new curbside pickup model to reduce waiting times at its drive-thru restaurants. Meanwhile, it made strides towards a more sustainable future, launching its first McPlant burger and initiating a roll-out of electric car charging points across 924 drive-thru locations. Up for Best Company, the fast-food giant’s approach to outreach and adaptation through the course of last year saw it enter 2021 stronger and more sustainable.

Nando’s

Nando’s constant innovation and almost unparalleled expansion has been recognised time and again, as a Best Concept and Best Company multi-award winner, and this year is no different. Over the course of 2020, the business turned to tech. In a rapid acceleration of its digital strategy, Nando’s launched an all-new cashless order and pay app, click and collect service, and first of its kind ‘brought to you by Deliveroo’ option. At the same time as making sweeping changes to its supply chain, moving to digital and launching its first plant-based offer, Nando’s showed a determination to serve its customers through any and every restriction, and so has been shortlisted once again for this year’s Best Company award.



Peter Borg-Neal (Oakman)

Having spent his entire career in the hospitality industry, Peter Borg-Neal has built up the now 27-strong Oakman Inns and Restaurants since founding the company in 2005. Shifting from group CEO to executive chairman last year, Borg-Neal has established himself as a powerful industry voice over the past year, leading calls for enhanced government support and banging the drum for the sector. In 2017, Borg-Neal was awarded Business Leader of The Year at the Publican Awards, run by MCA’s sister title, The Morning Advertiser. This year, recognised for his leadership in both Oakman and the wider industry, he has been shortlisted for Retailer’s Retailer.

Nick Collins

Since joining Loungers as finance director in 2012, Nick Collins has worked his way up the ranks. Promoted to his current role of CEO in January 2015, he has since overseen the expansion of the Lounge and Cosy Club brands from 56 to 168 sites as of December 2020. Under Collins’ leadership, the group quickly responded to the shifting consumer behaviour prompted by the pandemic last year. Loungers evolved its offer, completed an equity raise, reduced its non-property net debt and subsequently managed to turn a profit in spite of lockdown restrictions. With the group back on track to resume its 25 sites a year opening strategy, Collins’ strong and successful leadership through one of hospitality’s toughest years on record sees him shortlisted for the Retailer’s Retailer award 2021.

Richard Caring

In tackling the challenges of 2020, Richard Caring’s restaurant portfolio has been nothing if not resilient. The tycoon has steered his casual dining brands Bill’s and The Ivy Collection through the crisis without cause for a restructure, and he suggested in November that he is ready to return to the expansion trail as soon as possible. Following the closure of his iconic Le Caprice, Caring is on the hunt for a new location for the name. He is also on track to pursue a 34-strong expansion pipeline including possible new sites for the Scott’s, Sexy Fish and Ivy Asia brands. A previous winner in 2018, this year Caring is up for Retailer’s Retailer of the Year and Investor of the Year.

Roger Whiteside

Roger Whiteside has been a steady presence at the iconic bakery chain since taking the reins in 2013 from his previous role as CEO of Punch Taverns. Already a non-executive director at Greggs, Whiteside’s assured stewardship of the brand has seen him reverse stagnant like for likes by pivoting away from the high street, towards workplaces and travel hubs. The vegan sausage roll and a series of deliciously self-aware marketing campaigns has helped Greggs recapture its position as a people’s favourite, while confidently riding the mega trend of food to go. Coronavirus may have been tough on the sales at the company, but its digital strategy has puts it in a robust position to bounce back.

Emma Woods

Emma Woods had big shoes to fill at Wagamama, with her predecessors David Campbell and Jane Holbrook both former Retailers’ Retailer of the Year award winners. The CEO, with a background in marketing which takes in Unilever, Pizza Express and Merlin, has amply upheld the Pan-Asian brand’s positive momentum, adapting under pressure to the havoc wrought by coronavirus. Having closed the estate in a cost-effective way, Woods relaunched Wagamama with innovative Japanese-style sliding screens, which were both brand-appropriate and safety conscious. The company’s latest financial results show cost management and a number of rent deals saw adjusted EBITDA increase.


Dishoom

Founded by cousins Shamil and Kavi Thakrar in 2010, the compelling storytelling that characterises Dishoom has been given a fresh twist with each new restaurant. Following the launch of its latest site in Birmingham last year, Dishoom now operates eight Irani-style Bombay cafés across four cities, each with their own rich narrative backstory. Venturing into delivery for the first time last year, its strength of concept and thoughtful design endured, allowing the brand to launch in seven sites in London and Brighton with Deliveroo Editions, alongside an all-new breakfast at home kit. Recognised as Best Concept for the last two consecutive years, Dishoom has once again been shortlisted for the award.

Franco Manca

Franco Manca Apparently unphased by lockdowns, Franco Manca ploughed on amid the pandemic and partially reopened its pizzerias earlier than many. With a well drilled ops team and established delivery and takeaway business, the brand’s lean offering allowed Franco Manca to continue to drive sales through lockdown, and made for a solid platform to a return to dine-in. Already well known for its value for money, Franco Manca was able to slash prices even further during August’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, chairman David Page saying it recorded one of its highest weekly turnover figures. Having proven itself an agile operator, the concept is eyeing expansion opportunities amid a downsized restaurant market.

Hawksmoor

Best Concept A go-to destination for lovers of premium steak across the capital, the strength of Hawksmoor’s concept has seen it expand to the likes of Manchester, Edinburgh, and soon-to-be New York. With a loyal following spanning foodies and City boys, co-founders Will Beckett and Huw Gott encouraged their customers to support other, less secure restaurant businesses at the beginning of the crisis. Since then, the brand has taken its core components – high quality cuts and cocktails – online. Now available for nationwide delivery, Hawksmoor at Home has been a resounding success, its steak boxes continually selling out each month. Having delivered on its promise to make delivery “as good an experience as coming to the restaurants,” Hawksmoor has been shortlisted for this year’s Best Concept award.

Honest Burgers

Speaking to MCA back in June, Honest Burgers co-founder Philip Eeles’ approach to the coronavirus crisis was to “be nimble and crack on”, and that’s exactly what the business has done. The 37-strong operator, with restaurants across the capital, as well as in cities including Liverpool, Manchester and Brighton, was one of the first to release cook at-home kits in April. Known for its innovative monthly specials, the Active Partners-backed business also capitalised on the 2020 up-tick in delivery to test its new concept: Honest Chicken. Led by its original menu innovation and core quality produce, Honest Burgers has been shortlisted for Best Concept.

Pizza Pilgrims

Brothers Thom and James Elliot have created one of London’s best-loved pizzerias in Pizza Pilgrims, their neighbourhood-style homage to Naples. Their passion for pizza has seen them open 12 sites in the capital and one in Oxford. Since launching the business in the back of a van in 2012, they have become a sector mainstay, launching a ‘Pizza in the Post’ at-home initiative, publishing a book, and launching a debut virtual kitchen in Herne Hill. With a 14th pizzeria lined up in London’s Queensway, Pizza Pilgrims are tipped to continue their successful streak when they emerge out of lockdown.



BrewDog

The Scottish craft brewer and bar operator was quick to face up to the graveness of the pandemic, rapidly shifting gears with a number of initiatives, such as producing and distributing hand sanitizer. The craft beer company upped its direct to consumer channels, distributing straight to people’s homes. And more recently it was on the first to offer its venues for use as vaccination centres. In more familiar territory, BrewDog launched its fifth and final round of Equity for Punks, this one purely focussed on sustainability developments, including direct wind power for its breweries, CO2 recovery, electric vehicle fleets, and converting brewery waste into energy.

Côte Restaurants

Like many restaurant groups, the previously profitable Côte had to act fast in order to secure its future. Previously reporting £170m turnover from its 96 restaurants, former CEO Alex Scrimgeour, was forced to cut costs, entering discussions with landlords and reducing boardroom pay by 50%. The French bistro brand was one of the first to launch an at home offer, Côte at Home, delivering restaurant-quality chilled meals to customers. Despite the efforts, the business was forced to enter a pre-pack administration sales process, though this secured the future of 94 restaurants and the jobs of 3,148 employees.

Leon

Known for a disruptive, forward-thinking ethos, Leon spearheaded two ground-breaking not-for-profit campaigns last year – Feed Britain and FeedNHS – raising over £1m to deliver hot food to frontline workers. In a move to support key workers and ease the strain on supermarkets at the peak of the pandemic, Leon leveraged supplier relationships and converted 75 sites into grocery stores, and launched a delivery ecommerce platform for those unable to get to a store. Leon co-founders John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby were first recognised by the Retailer’s Retailer Awards just two years after they launched the concept in 2004. The pair won Rising Star in 2006, followed by the Evolution Award in 2015, and Leon is once again up for the latter.

Pizza Pilgrims

Since launching their Neapolitan pizza concept from the back of a Piaggio Ape van in 2012, Thom Elliot and brother James have grown Pizza Pilgrims into a central London staple. Now with 12 sites in the capital and one in Oxford, the launch of its ‘Pizza in the Post’ at-home initiative consolidated the brand as a rare lockdown success story. The business launched its first virtual kitchen in Herne Hill, and has a 14th pizzeria lined up in London’s Queensway expected later this year. Leading the charge with its innovated at-home offer, Pizza Pilgrims is up for this year’s Evolution Award.

Pret A Manager

2020 was not the easiest year for five-time Best Company award winner Pret. Closing 36 stores and cutting over 3,000 jobs, the drop-off of city footfall certainly took its toll on the food-to-go player. Yet despite the restructure, Pret found a way to accelerate its digital transformation, which has helped see it shortlisted for the Evolution Award. In a first of its kind in the UK, Pret launched a coffee subscription service last September, surpassing the brand’s expectations four-fold in its first month. A month later, it entered the evening day-part with Dinners by Pret. Part of a covid-necessitated transition from high-street mainstay to multi-channel operator, the evolution of the Pret will no doubt continue in 2021.




Casa do Frango

Portuguese grilled chicken specialist Casa do Frango has been a slow burning hit since it opened near London Bridge in 2018, before taking its punchy and affordable peri peri flavours to Shoreditch last year. Its tightly focussed offering has proved popular enough among diners to justify in expanding its cover space at both sites, with the takeover of the former Native in London Bridge allowing considerable extra space to manage social distancing. Casa do Frango is inspired by the no-frills approach and international spices of Algarve eateries, and was founded by Marco Mendes and Jake Kasumov, who met while working in the City of London and founded the MJMK hospitality company, which was involved in the opening of the Pop Brixton restaurant and retail development.

Farmer J

As a central London grab and go concept, Farmer J has faced an unenviable position going into the pandemic. However, remaining open for walk-in when restrictions allowed, and shifting in the most part to a digital model, the Jonathan Recanati-led brand has kept the wheels in motion. The Imbiba-backed business made its all-day offer available to Londoners via click-and-collect and delivery, and kept its sites trading profitably. Operating under some of the toughest trading conditions to hit the food-to-go sector, Farmer J’s resilience is testament to the strength of its authentic and sustainable brand, and as such it has been shortlisted for this year’s Emerging Concept award.

Island Poke

Hawaiian-inspired Island Poke has aspirations to become the number one global poke brand. First emerging on London’s street-food market scene in 2015, founder James Gould-Porter, has expanded the business to eight London-based bricks and mortar sites, and three delivery-only kitchens. Backed by Chris Miller’s White Rabbit Fund, the business announced plans for 13 international sites via franchise partners – in France and Brussels – at the beginning of last year. In the UK, the brand has its eye on an expansion goal of 40 sites in the next five years. Already the fastest growing poke brand in the country, Island Poke has been shortlisted for this year’s Emerging Concept.

Neat Burger

Plant-based burger concept Neat Burger launched its first site in Mayfair just six months before the first lockdown. Financed by Lewis Hamilton, The Cream Group and investors including early backer of Beyond Meat, Tommaso Chiabra, the business opened a further three London restaurant sites last year, as well as two virtual kitchens. With its focus on ethical produce, sustainability and Instagram-friendly design schemes, Neat Burger has tapped into several key consumer trends enhanced by and set to out-live the coronavirus crisis. The brand was awarded Best Vegan Offering at last year’s Deliveroo awards, and has now been shortlisted for Retailer’s Emerging Concept.

Yard Sale Pizza

A pizzeria collection with roots in East London, Yard Sale Pizza has quietly established itself by taking unwanted, cheap sites in underdeveloped but up-and-coming areas. Tapping into an unmet demand in these neighbourhoods for a good-quality, value offer, Yard Sale has sites in Leytonstone, Clapton and Walthamstow, areas young professionals have gravitated towards, due to relatively cheaper housing costs. Founder Johnnie Tate says there’s a satisfaction in turning round dilapidated shops, but insists “we are not going into areas to make them look nicer”. Yard Sale’s savvy approach has won the backing and investment from Paul Campbell, who sits on the boards of Hawksmoor, Vinoteca, Hickory’s, Blacklock, Tortilla, The Alchemist and Gusto, via his Hill Capital Partners vehicle.


McDonalds - Drive Thru AI Technology

Renowned for its focus on technology which eases the customer journey, McDonald’s has continued to push forward with digital development in 2020, amid varying degrees of restrictions. The quick service giant quickly adapted its operations to lockdown, building on the success on its burgeoning delivery business. Developments that were already underway in drive-thru were accelerated, McDonald’s shaving time from average orders. It also acquired AI voice recognition technology which will see it swap human servers for robots, in a move that increases automation in restaurants while reducing inaccuracies in order taking.

Nando’s - click & collect and order & pay technology

Having tried out its own delivery service in 2017, and worked with various aggregators since, the announcement that Nando’s and Deliveroo were entering into an exclusive partnership earlier this year seemed like the inevitable conclusion to the story. Yet the difference in this case was, in a first for the platform, Deliveroo’s ordering technology would be integrated into Nando’s own website under a new ‘brought to you by Deliveroo’ service. The new system also incorporates Nando’s reward program for a more “stable, user friendly experience”. Nando’s UK and Ireland CEO Colin Hill described the result as an “industry leading digital-first product” which would also work for click and collect.

Pret a Manger “Your Barista” Coffee Subscription

Pret’s novel coffee subscription was announced at a time when restaurants were enjoying the post-summer euphoria of Eat Out to Help Out, but city centre-based food to go was still waiting for its customers to return. Coming as the government tried to encourage workers back to offices, the Your Barista service offered customers five drinks a day for a fixed monthly price of £20. The footfall has yet to return with new stay at home orders, but the innovation behind the initiative is undeniable. The initiative quickly surpassed expectations, allowing the brand to tap into a new, younger consumer base, while the increased volumes saved barista jobs.

Wetherspoons App

As operators scrambled to produce user-friendly order and pay apps, one of the more traditional operators was sitting pretty, having established its own way back in 2017. Wetherspoon essentially pioneered the order at table app, and it was an instant hit with customers, credited with boosting sales, years before covid necessitated an entire industry to get on board. Despite hesitation among its peers, doubtful that consumers would want multiple brand apps on their phones, Wetherspoons has helped normalise adoption, making the acceleration less of a rude jolt and more of a smooth ride. During restrictions, familiarity with the app has made for a more seamless experience for loyal customers, and greater efficiency for operations.


Amazonico London

High profile rainforest-themed Madrid restaurant Amazonico opened its London outpost in November 2019 following the signing of a brand-new lease. The brainchild of Spanish restaurateurs Santo da Silva and Marta Santos, the “wonderfully over the top” restaurant took over the former Allied Irish Bank building at 10 Berkeley Square, Mayfair. The 9,000sq ft restaurant pays a punchy £1m per annum in rent, with upmarket dining “inspired by tropical, Asian, Mediterranean and Brazilian cuisine”. Going head-to-head with some of Mayfair’s most glamorous restaurants, including Richard Caring’s Sexy Fish, and Park Chinois, the restaurant is operated by Dogus International, which owns several top-end London restaurants including Roka, Zuma and Coya.

Circolo Popolare, Fitzrovia

France’s Big Mamma group opened second London restaurant Circolo Popolare just months after their debut smash hit Gloria. Even more magnificent than the first, the huge Italian-inspired restaurant, in Rathbone Place in Fitzrovia, has space for nearly 300 covers, the walls lined with more than 20,000 bottles of spirits, and the dessert menu featuring a litre-sized ice cream sundae. Despite a distinct lack of natural light, the 9,000sq ft space is bright and airy, the aesthetic inspired by the coastal, rustic trattorias of Sicily. Hanging from the ceiling are colourful floral arrangements and bright lighting that dims as the sun goes down. Big Mamma founders Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux infamously described it as “probably the least Brexit-compatible restaurant in the UK”.

Dishoom, Birmingham

Paying tribute to Birmingham’s history as a “city of a thousand trades”, Dishoom opened at One Chamberlain Square in August 2020. Part of the £700m Paradise development, it overlooks the Grade I listed Birmingham Town Hall, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the Chamberlain Monument fountain. Offering reservations for the first time due to the pandemic, the 330-cover restaurant boasts a dining room, bar and outside terrace, paying homage to the old Irani cafés of Bombay. The concept design also weaves in a narrative inspired by Birmingham, exploring the unique parallels with the trades and markets of Bombay and the importance of the city’s commercial past.

Electric Shuffle, Canary Wharf

A new experiential concept from Flight Club creator Red Engine, Electric Shuffle gives the lesser known shuffleboard game the social competitive treatment. Putting cutting edge technology and dazzling audio-visuals at its heart, the new concept takes the core elements of shuffleboard and reinvents them for the 21st century. Using technology to create a fast-flowing, mesmerising and interactive game, the shuffle table holds up to 16 people at a time, with three different games, each inspired by a different shuffleboard element. Alongside the games, the Canary Wharf venue serves craft beers and cocktails, alongside seasonal sharing plates, pizza paddles and specials.

The Ivy Asia, St Pauls

Richard Caring venues are not known for skimping on interiors, and the Ivy Asia lives up to its owner’s reputation for a lavish decor. Replacing Jamie Oliver’s former Barbecoa site, the One new Change venue boasts life-size replicas of samurai warriors and geishas, and unparalleled views of St Paul’s cathedral. The concept, which was originally tested in Manchester’s Spitalfields, was developed off the back of the popularity of some of the Ivy’s signature dishes, such as the crispy duck salad. Featuring glowing green floors, swirling dragon-painted ceilings and a gold mirrored bar, the 200-cover Ivy Asia is a picture of opulence.

The Royal Foresters, Ascot

A meeting place in the heart of Ascot for over 140 years, The Royal Foresters is described as a place where the past meets the present, where log fires meet Mediterranean-inspired food, where cask ales meet wood fired pizza. Doubling as a hotel with 24 guest rooms, the venue opened in July 2018, and was one the most challenging projects Oakman Inns has undertaken. The main entrance takes guests under framed wisteria, through to a fully restored original bar and two period fireplaces. The glazed extension on the east side offers views onto the landscaped terrace and freshly planted beer garden. The restaurant boasts a signature open kitchen, where chefs can be seen creating freshly prepared dishes, using quality, responsibly sourced ingredients.


Cain acquisition of Prezzo

Private equity firm Cain International acquired Prezzo from previous owners TPG in December 2020. The investment, which includes co-investment by Prezzo’s management team, came seven months after the 180-strong restaurant brand first appointed FRP Advisory to look at its post-coronavirus funding options. Karen Jones continues to lead the brand as executive chair, whilst Cain International CEO and co-founder Jonathan Goldstein joined Prezzo’s board of directors following completion of the transaction. Goldstein said the “vast majority” of the chain’s sites would be retained. Cain International’s hospitality portfolio includes crazy golf concept Swingers, Mortimer House operator Maslow’s Group and the All Bright club for women in business.

Côte Restaurants acquisition by Partners Group

Côte Restaurants was acquired out of administration by global private markets investment manager Partners Group in September. Partners Group is reported to have “ambitious plans” for the business, with former Wagamama CEO Jane Holbrook joining the board as chair, and later becoming executive chair following the departure of long-standing CEO Alex Scrimgeour. Côte, which was trading well prior to lockdown, appointed advisers FTI Consulting to explore its options and create a stronger financial structure. FTI sold the business in a pre-pack administration to three companies owned by Partners Group, securing the immediate future of 94 restaurants and 3,148 employees.

Stonegate completes takeover for Ei Group

Stonegate’s proposed takeover of Ei Group was first announced in July 2019, but was not completed until March 2020, the go-ahead given after Stonegate’s proposal to dispose of 42 pubs was accepted by the CMA as a solution to competition concerns. The acquisition made Stonegate the largest pub operator in the UK, with a total estate of around 5,000 sites. The cash deal valued Ei at £1.27bn, with an enterprise value of £3bn – a multiple of around 11.4 times EIG’s underlying EBITDA of £261m. Ei shareholders were entitled to receive 285 pence in cash per share under the terms of the acquisition – a premium of approximately 38.5% on its closing price of 205.8 pence on the day of the acquisition. The deal was backed by TDR Capital, which founded Stonegate in 2010, and has supported a number of strategic acquisitions over the years.

Epiris’ acquisition of Casual Dining Group / The Big Table

Private equity firm Epiris completed the deal to acquire Casual Dining Group in August. Under its new name The Big Table, the Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge operator maintained its existing senior management team, led by CEO James Spragg. The terms of the transaction, which was handled by Alix Partners, were not disclosed. But Epiris was said to have invested significant cash into the business, saving 150 restaurants and 4,000 jobs, also committing to future funding. Epiris partner Ian Wood said the deal would enable the business to trade through the uncertain months, and invest in its three strong brands.

TowerBrook acquisition of Azzuri Group

The Azzurri Group was acquired by TowerBrook Capital Partners via a pre-pack administration process in July. While the deal saw the closure of 75 sites, and 1,200 job losses, TowerBrook committed £70m to restructure Azzurri’s balance sheet, including reducing its debt, and allowing funds for future growth. While lamenting the closures and job losses, Azzurri CEO Steve Holmes described the investor as a “strong new partner who shares our ambitions for the future”. He added: “Their additional investment has enabled us to preserve the majority of our restaurants, stores and jobs and I am confident that, under TowerBrook’s ownership, Azzurri will navigate the period ahead successfully.”



Epiris

Having exited its investment in TGI Fridays in 2017, Epiris made a return to the sector with the acquisition of Casual Dining Group as part of a pre-pack administration. Its winning bid of £18m saw the private equity firm back the management team under CEO James Spragg. Epiris was reported to have invested significant cash in the Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge operator, and committed more in the future, while saving more than 150 restaurants and 4,000 jobs. New moniker The Big Table is a reference to the far-reaching internal culture programme at the former CDG business that “championed togetherness, diversity and inclusivity amongst all members.”

Richard Caring

Richard Caring made his thoughts clear on his approach to investment in an interview with MCA towards the end of 2019. Describing the turnaround job at Bill’s, which saw him plough some £22m into a business which had been mired in negative like for likes sales for several years, he said: “We’re fighters. We’ll make it work by investing into the business.” At his other flagship brand, The Ivy Collection, Caring has continued to back high street hospitality, making clear his distaste of CVAs. While his rollouts and openings may have slowed during lockdown, few doubt he will continue to put his money where his mouth is when normal trading resumes.

TDR Capital

Having established Stonegate in 2010, with the acquisition of 333 pubs from Mitchells & Butlers, TDR Capital has built the biggest pub company in the UK. Backing the management team led by CEO Simon Longbottom, TDR has grown Stonegate through a series of add-on acquisitions, most recently with the transformational £3bn acquisition of Ei Group’s 4,000 pubs in 2020. With a focus on building a high street drinks-led pub market champion, TDR financed the takeovers of Slug & Lettuce, Walkabout, Be At One, Fever Bars and Popworld, integrating these brands and driving performance through operational initiatives and refurbishment programmes. TDR also owns forecourt convenience operator, EG Group.

The Restaurant Group

Andy Hornby had a formidable task when getting to grips with the unwieldy, outdated and money haemorrhaging leisure estate at The Restaurant Group. One division that won’t have given him such a headache is Wagamama, a brand that has continued its run as a standout market performer, well after its acquisition by TRG in 2018. The Pan-Asian brand’s success should not be taken for granted: at the time, some feared TRG might mess with the magic that led to a record-breaking run of consecutive quarters of like for like growth. Wagamama is now popping up ib former Chiquito and Frankie & Benny’s sites under TRG stewardship.

TowerBrook

Investor of the Year Making its debut in the UK restaurant market, TowerBrook Capital Partners swooped on Azzurri Group in a pre-pack administration sale, saving some 225 restaurants. The firm pledged £70m to restructure the Ask Italian and Zizzi operator’s balance sheet, including reducing its debt, and allow funds for future growth. Known as experienced sector investors, TowerBrook are understood to have tracked the UK casual dining for some time, and had been on the lookout for a first platform acquisition in the UK. “They would have been one of the favourites to make a play for one of these platforms in the industry,” Graeme Smith, managing director at AlixPartners told MCA.

Adelle Taylor, operations director at Cote Restaurants

Nominated by exec chair Jane Holbrook

 Adelle, our ops director FOH has been a beacon of light and inspiration through this pandemic, managing through her own illness, bringing humour to lighten the load for others, and leading the team through difficult times. She’s done this with huge grace, good humour and steely determination to do the right thing for everyone. On top of this she has been instrumental in the set up and huge success of Cote At Home, which has brought hope, a sense of belonging for the team and kept many people employed. I love her… a true hero.

Read more about Adelle Taylor here.

Rob Mitchell, exec chef at Drake & Morgan

Nominated by CEO Jillian Maclean

Rob has been with me since I started the business and has grown the business from one site to 23 businesses. He has been integral to the growth of the businesses and has led and supported me and the team through the most challenging time in my lifetime in this sector. He’s a winner in my eyes and our teams.

Read more about Rob Mitchell here.

Rory Marthinusen COO at Giggling Squid

Nominated by head of PR & marketing Hannah Johnson

The calmest of heads in the choppiest of seas. From lockdown 1.0 onwards Rory has led the team to deliver the right decisions, at the right time. He has united the company in the most challenging of times, always keeping our people first in every decision. He has worked tirelessly to ensure we haven’t dropped the many spinning plates throughout this pandemic and he well and truly deserves the HERO award. Not only has our business grown exponentially but our culture and team spirit are much stronger and that’s because of him. ”

Read more about Rory here.

Vic Stewart CFO The Alchemist

Nominated by CEO Simon Potts

“In a year when the unsung heroes of finance have been worth their very weight in gold, I would like to nominate Vic. Blending commerciality with cost discipline and working every conceivable lever to keep cash close - without hurting supplier or creditor chain. Optimistic, opportunistic and tireless in the task of managing operational need with investor and bank expectation - I believe she is second to none. A well known and well liked figure in the hospitality finance community, she has kept cheery communication going across the sector, as well as continued to develop her team.”

Read more about Vic Stewart here.

Suzanne Baker, commercial and property director, Stonegate

Nominated by Maureen Heffernan MD of Leisure PR

Throughout the pandemic Suzanne has orchestrated and managed the challenges presented with operating a huge and diverse supply chain as well as dealing with the increased challenges of an enhanced estate with Stonegate purchasing EI Group in March, 2 weeks prior to the first lock-down. Unflappable, calm and personable throughout Suzanne epitomises professionalism behind the scenes of the biggest pub company in the UK.

Read more about Suzanne Baker here.

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