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Cateys 2017: Lifetime Achievement Award, Sir Terence Conran

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Cateys 2017: Lifetime Achievement Award, Sir Terence Conran

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Our winner is an extraordinary individual who has been making an indelible  and exceptional mark on the restaurant and wider hospitality sector for more than 64 years.

Designer Sir Terence Conran has not only had a direct impact on the way so  many restaurants look today, but through his role as the founder of household furnishing company Habitat and later as owner of Heal’s and the Conran Shop, he has probably had a greater influence than any one person upon the aesthetics of our homes.

Born in Surrey in 1931, Conran studied at the Central School of Art and Design  (now Central St Martin’s, part of the University of Arts, London). He opened his first restaurant, the Soup Kitchen, in London in 1953, and has gone on to launch an unprecedented number of dining concepts all over the world.

In the early years of his career, Conran’s focus was on designing furniture, but he always had an eye on restaurants, with the Orrery and the Neal Street  restaurants among his early successes. However, it was the launch of Bibendum in the iconic Michelin building in 1987 that set him on the path to becoming a giant within the world of hospitality.

Conran Restaurants was founded with business partner Joel Kissin in 1991 and  became home to some of London’s most celebrated restaurants, among them Quaglino’s, the Butlers Wharf gastrodome (combining Le Pont de la Tour, Cantina del Ponte, Butlers Wharf Chop House, a food store, wine merchant and bakery), Bluebird and Coq d’Argent.

Many were game-changers, with stylish designs and simple menus that provided  an antidote to over-embellished food and chintzy interiors. The aim was to create a more inclusive dining-out experience, but in venues that exuded quality and panache.

Some restaurants were huge – the 700-seat Mezzo in London’s Soho employed  350 staff.

“I hope Mezzo gives people such a thrill that their jaws drop when they see it for  the first time,” said Conran when it launched in 1995.

Conran Restaurants took its first step into hotels with the creation of the Great Eastern hotel (rebranded in 2006 under the Hyatt Andaz brand) in the City of London and moved overseas, opening Alcazar in Paris and Guastavino’s in New York.

In 2006, Des Gunewardena and David Loewi led a buyout of Conran Restaurants  and rebranded the business as D&D Restaurants. Conran had no intention of retiring and set about creating another hospitality company.

Prescott & Conran was launched in conjunction with Peter Prescott, former  operations director at Conran restaurants, and his wife, Vicki. Boundary – comprising three restaurants and bars, 12 bedrooms, a British food store and a bakery in east London – kicked off the new company in 2008. Since then, it has opened Albion, a multi-faceted neighbourhood business in three locations,  Lutyens on Fleet Street and Parabola in the Design Museum, and acquired Les Deux Salons.

Earlier this year, Conran oversaw the relaunch of Bibendum, which now has  Claude Bosi, former two-Michelin-starred chef-proprietor of Hibiscus, at the helm. It is, says Conran, “the most personal restaurant I have ever created”.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is just one of a host of accolades to have come Conran’s way during a long and illustrious career. As well as being knighted in 1983 and being appointed a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last month, he has won two previous Cateys: Restaurateur of the Year (1994) and the Catey Special Award (1998).

The judges
The senior team of The Caterer, with nominations from the Cateys judging panels

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