"One of the nicest people in the industry, rarely criticising others," was the opening statement of one the judges about Terry Laybourne, this year's Independent Restaurateur of the Year.
"I was impressed by his humility and for what he has done for those coming up through the ranks," said another.
The winner possesses all these personal characteristics, in addition to running four restaurants, at the stove in one of them, and supervising menus and management of the other three.
That he has done this in the North-east of England, Newcastle to be precise, was a further testament to his ability as a restaurateur, the judges felt.
It would seem this is the year of Terry Laybourne. He was recognised in the New Year's Honours List with an MBE for his contribution to tourism and catering. He has recently opened his fourth restaurant, 10 years after starting his first,21 Queen Street in Newcastle.
Despite Laybourne being a man who, in the words of one judge, "does not seek the PR or the recognition for his contribution to the industry", he is now being firmly placed in the spotlight.
Paul Heathcote, last year's winner, declared: "Terry Laybourne should have won this award before me."
Laybourne's 60-seat waterfront restaurant, 21 Queen Street, holds a single Michelin star, awarded in 1992 - at the time the only star for the area. Average spend at the restaurant is £48. In 1994, Laybourne decided he was ready to expand and opened his first bistro - the 40-seat Café 21 in the northern suburbs of Newcastle. Then came the 55-seat Bistro 21 in Durham. Average spend at the bistros is less than at21 Queen Street, £27 at Café 21 and £29 at Bistro 21. Last month, Laybourne opened the 70-seat Brasserie 21 in Sunderland.
He is focused on training, and his expansion was partly fuelled by the realisation that young chefs needed a career path that often was not available.
"I was spending my whole time training people, who I was then losing. But then they were coming back to me, unhappy that the new restaurants they were working in were not of the quality they were used to," Laybourne said in an interview with Caterer this February.
Despite running four restaurants to a high standard, Laybourne has made time to help raise £50,000 for the local Yellow Brick Road children's charity by organising the Pride of Northumbria dinners over three consecutive years. His work with charities in the North-east was remarked upon by two of the judges and his nominators.
Laybourne was described as a great restaurateur, a great chef and a great contributor to the industry by judge Stephen Moss. And AA inspector Mark Manson appreciated his candid and fresh approach to inspectors. "I found him to be one of the most refreshing people I have dealt with - he wasn't afraid to tell me I was talking rubbish!"