Roy Ackerman, one of the hospitality industry’s most recognisable and inspirational personalities, has died. He was 75 and had suffered a stroke.
During a career that spanned more than 50 years, Ackerman came to occupy a unique position within the industry. He campaigned endlessly to promote the benefits of working within restaurants and hotels and negotiated multiple deals which led to the launch of some of the capital’s best known restaurants, including Locanda Locatelli at the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill and Theo Randall’s restaurant at the InterContinental London Park Lane.
Equally, Ackerman was a bon viveur who not only loved food and wine, but was also exceptionally knowledgeable about the subjects. And he was a well-respected operator in the world of publishing, film-making and art.
Born in February 1942 in Bristol, Ackerman began his career as an apprentice chef. The training proved to be the stepping stone to his first restaurant, Quincy’s Bistro, which he opened in Oxford in 1975. That first business eventually led to the launch – with his business partner, the late Michael Golder – of Kennedy Brookes, a company that eventually grew to more than 130 restaurants and hotels with the likes of Bertorelli’s, Opera Terrace, and Braganza among its portfolio.
Following the sale of Kennedy Brookes, Ackerman went on to be appointed as chairman in myriad restaurant company and consultancy groups including Simpsons of Cornhill, 190 Queen’s Gate, the Restaurant Partnership, the Restaurant Factory and, more latterly, Tadema Studios. His involvement with these businesses resulted in the opening in a plethora of restaurants and concepts in London, among them Bistro Bistrot at the Montague and Bailey’s hotels and Refettorio at the Crowne Plaza City, as well as breathing new life into such lauded venues as Elena’s L’Etoile, the Gay Hussar and the White Tower.
Ackerman was also something of a Renaissance man, exploring various aspects of the arts, but always with a connection to hospitality. As well as producing a series of highly respected restaurant guides, he launched CoolCucumber TV, an early online food magazine programme. More recently he headed up Ackerman Studios, an art consultancy which partnered emerging artists with restaurants and hotels, such as the Dorchester Collection’s 45 Park Lane, to provide them valuable gallery space.
One of Ackerman’s most significant successes came in 1987, when the Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Act came into force. As chairman of the Restaurateurs’ Association of Great Britain (RAGB), he spear-headed the campaign to reform the archaic licensing regulations of the time and even led a march of 200 RAGB members on Downing Street, two years earlier. The new law enabled alcohol to be served with restaurant meals in the afternoon for the first time, transforming the sector by boosting business and profits.
The success of the campaign won the RAGB the Special Catey Award in 1987. In the same year Ackerman also helped launch the National Restaurateurs Dinner, which last month celebrated its 30th anniversary at London’s Dorchester hotel.
Ackerman was involved in many other organisations. He was chairman of the Hotel and Catering Training Board and held numerous honorary positions, including president of the Academy of Food and Wine Service, chairman of the governors of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and chancellor of the Wine Guild of the United Kingdom.
Among the plethora of accolades bestowed on Ackerman throughout his long and illustrious career was the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Catey Awards. The OBE presented to him in 1990 for his work on promoting tourism and training was followed by the CBE, given for his services to gastronomy in 2004.
Ultimately, Ackerman will be remembered for the kindness and support he showed so many people throughout the industry and his love of life. Hundreds of individuals over the years will have benefitted from his willingness to help them in furthering their business ambitions – he would frequently work on a no-fee basis in order to support aspiring young chefs and restaurateurs on setting up their businesses on a confidential basis, as well as supporting community projects and charities.
Sara Jayne Staynes, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, said: “Roy Ackerman was Mr Hospitality. He knew ‘everyone’ and his contribution to the industry and his résumé would take a book to do it justice. He had a huge personality and a strong presence but he never imposed. He was a tower of strength and generous support to the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts since its early days as the Academie Culinaire de France UK. The industry has lost a force majeure. He has left a gaping chasm and he will be massively missed. Our thoughts go to his wife Sally and his family.”
Mark Lewis, publisher of The Caterer, said: “When I first got to know Roy, I viewed him as a charismatic industry icon, someone who commanded the greatest of respect. Latterly, I came to think of him as a friend. Warm, generous, bursting with joie de vivre, Roy loved the company of others, and loved to make people happy. The industry will be a poorer and drabber place without him. And I shall miss him very much.”
Brian Turner, president of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts (RACA), described Ackerman as “a man with extraordinary vision who understood the real meaning of hospitality. He will be sorely missed by so many in the restaurant business. He was the lynchpin of the RACA and will be impossible to replace.
“I personally will really miss the giggling fits we shared.”
Stephen Moss, chairman of industry charity Springboard, was a fellow director and shareholder of 190 Queen’s Gate alongside Ackerman. He said that he will Ackerman’s “warmth, wonderful sense of humour and endless energy, even latterly in ill health.
“I worked really closely with Roy when he was chairman of the RAGB, leading on the detail of the private member’s bill to change the licensing laws for restaurants, which led to further reforms that were transformational for the whole hospitality industry. I remember marching with him on 10 Downing Street in our chef whites!
“I then worked with Roy, Richard Shepherd, Antony Worrall-Thompson and others on 190 Queen’s Gate in which the RAGB had a stake – a truly innovative idea and it worked. Roy encouraged and supported me and Anne Pierce with our plans for Springboard which he was thrilled to see develop. He became a dear friend and my thoughts go out to Sally and the family as we have lost a very special man.”
Anton Mosimann first met Ackerman when he was executive chef of London’s Dorchester hotel and said that they instantly became friends sharing common goals, experiences and birthday celebrations.
“Together with Paul Levy, Len Deighton and Peter Ustinov, we would meet for dinner at Mosimann’s, as all our birthdays fell just days apart. Roy was an iconic figure and always had the eye of an entrepreneur looking for new restaurant opportunities.
“Having been a successful restaurateur, he helped many established chefs start their own enterprises. Without a doubt, he has inspired the current generation of chefs, both in the kitchen and in business within their own ventures.
“Roy was in every way a Renaissance man, with a curiosity in many different aspects of life and arts, his associations with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, the Academy of Food and Wine Service and the National Restaurateurs’ Dinner were only the tip of the iceberg of his eclectic interests.
“But, he was also a man of action and when he felt that something was unfair, he was prepared to stand up and be counted, such as organising the march on Downing Street and thus responsible for changing an archaic licensing regulation to benefit all in our industry.
“Roy was a very good friend and we enjoyed many an evening with a glass of good wine musing over the world of hospitality. The industry has lost a true gentleman, one of the most recognisable personalities in our profession. I will miss him greatly. My thoughts are with Sally and her family.”
Richard Shepherd, honorary president of the Royal Academy of culinary Arts, and former owner of Langan’s Restaurants, described Ackerman as “a good friend” who he will miss very much.
“Good friends are hard to come by,” he said. “We shared many special moments over a cigar and a good bottle of wine. The industry will be poorer without him, I know I will be. My heart goes out to all his family, especially Sally, his rock. Rest in peace my friend.”
Roland Fasel, chief operating officer at luxury hotel group Aman, met Ackerman in 2004 when he was general manager at the InterContinental Park Lane London. Together they negotiated the deal to launch the Theo Randall restaurant in the hotel.
“We have translated several incredible ideas into huge professional successes,” he said. “As well as the Theo Randall deal, we curated the art concept at 45 Park Lane. But Roy was much more that a business contact, he was my friend, my mentor, my inspiration and, let’s not forget, my Chelsea FC partner on many occasions. He had the best karma, the kindest and most positive approach to life. I am devastated. My thoughts go out to Sally and the girls.”
There were also an outpouring of tributes on Twitter. Celebrity chef James Martin wrote: “So sad, one of first people I cooked for in my first job as a young cook in London. A giant in the food scene. RIP”.
Paul Gayler, former executive chef at the Lanesborough hotel, London, and founder of Feedback chef consultancy, said: “So sad the news of the passing of Roy Ackerman. One of life’s gentlemen and hospitality icon. God bless Roy x.
David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director of the Goring hotel, London, described Ackerman as “a wonderful man an icon in our industry”, and Philip Newman-Hall, former managing director of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, said he was “a great inspiration, mentor and ambassador for the industry”.
Chef and TV presenter Ken Hom wrote that he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Roy Ackerman, one of the giant in our hospitality industry. I was privileged to meet him on numerous occasion and found him a true foundation of knowledge and inspiration. He will be sorely missed by all of us.
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