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Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Luke Johnson, Risk Capital Partners

06 December 2012
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Luke Johnson, Risk Capital Partners

Overall ranking: 46 (NEW ENTRY)
Restaurateur ranking: 13 (NEW ENTRY)
Luke Johnson - Snapshot

Luke Johnson is the serial entrepreneur best known for his involvement with Pizza ExpressThe Ivy and Le Caprice - as well as chains Belgo and Strada, the latter of which he built up from scratch. At present, he is owner of the Baker and Spice bakery chain and artisan baker Flour Power City and holds a majority stake in Japanese chain Feng Sushi and casual-dining chain 3Sixty Restaurants, comprising Ego Restaurants and Rocket Restaurants. He is also chairman of Bread Ltd, the firm behind the Gail's Artisan Bakery chain, pub group The Draft House and chains Giraffe Restaurants and Patisserie Valerie. He founded Risk Capital Partners in 2001. The company's investments include brands Giraffe, Patisserie Valerie and Gail's Artisan Bakery.

Luke Johnson - Snapshot

The son of historian Paul Johnson, Luke was educated at the state-owned Langley Grammar School in Langley, Berkshire, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he started studying medicine but switched to a BA in physiological sciences.

Johnson accredits Richard Branson with inspiring him to go into business, after he and fellow student Hugh Osmond (later founder of Punch Taverns) interviewed him for a student magazine. The pair went on to set up Era nightclub in Oxford and owned several businesses by the time they graduated.

After starting his career as a stockbroker, Johnson teamed up with Osmond in 1993 to take control of Pizza Express. They expanded the business from 12 restaurants to over 250, with the share price rising from 40p to over £9 in this time. After selling up in 1995, Johnson then founded Signature Restaurants, snapping up star-studded London haunts including The Ivy, Le Caprice, J Sheekey, Daphne's and Pasha, as well as mid-market chain Belgo, and starting restaurant chain Strada. He sold all of Signature's restaurants to restaurateur Richard Caring in 2005, in a deal worth in excess of £90m.

While also serving other business interests - including the position of chairman of Channel 4 Television Corporation from January 2004 to January 2010 - Johnson has remained firmly in the hospitality industry. He acquired a stake in family-friendly restaurant chain Giraffe in 2004, made an ultimately doomed attempt to rescue high street chain Fish Works in 2007, acquired bakery chains Patisserie Valerie and Baker & Spice and bought Japanese chain Feng Sushi in 2010 - the same year he acquired a majority stake in restaurant group Ego, before helping merge it with Rocket Restaurants to form umbrella company 3Sixty Restaurants. In 2011, he also acquired a minority stake in pub company Draft House, assumed a shareholding in Bread Ltd, a leading artisan baker which includes retail bakery and cafe Gail's, and a majority stake in contract caterer Yes Dining.

Luke Johnson - What we think

When it comes to restaurant entrepreneurs, Johnson stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. His on-going influence on the industry has been so significant that Richard Harden, co-founder of Harden restaurant guides, assessed it so: "Any history of London restaurants written in 50 years' time would have to include a significant chapter devoted to Signature. In a low profile sort of way there are very few people who have had more impact than Luke Johnson."

While some might view his glory days as the Pizza Express and Signature years, the serial deal maker has continued to snap up chain after chain - including the Draft House and Bread Ltd within the last 18 months. And despite his plethora of outside interests - including business investment agency Beer & Partners, private equity house Risk Capital Partners and two theatre partnerships - he remains involved in 10 different hospitality businesses. Inside the industry, his reputation for deal making is almost the stuff of legends: "Some people are of the opinion that you should never buy a business from Luke Johnson," one industry insider told the Telegraph in 2011. "It's not that he'd sell you a pup but he's bloody good and bloody aggressive and you're likely to end up on the wrong end of the deal."

His talent in developing brands is also renowned. Speaking to Caterer in 2012, business partner James Horler assessed his qualities as such: "He has two phenomenal abilities: to see the market ahead of anyone else - and he's proven that time and again, whether with PizzaExpress or artisan bread; and he's also incredibly talented at understanding the consumer."

However, it was when stating his desire to open 50 restaurants in 2012 across his different chains that Johnson gave perhaps the most telling insight into his phenomenal success: "I'm an optimist by nature and the son of a historian - he's pointed out to me in the past that in the long run optimists always win."

Luke Johnson defends Starbucks over corporation tax storm >>
Luke Johnson labels Pizza Express's approach to discounting "disastrous" >>

Luke Johnson criticises "huge burden of taxation" on hospitality >>
Entrepreneur Luke Johnson slams discount culture >>

Luke Johnson acquires Yes Dining >>

Patisserie Valerie moves closer to 50 sites >>

Feng Sushi to open seventh site >>

Giraffe plans to roll out brands across the UK >>

Luke Johnson's website >>

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