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Caterersearch.com 100: Ben and Hugo Warner

01 July 2010

Overall ranking: 90

Food service ranking: 10

Ben and Hugo Warner - Snapshot

Brothers Ben and Hugo Warner are the founders of Benugo, which started life as a series of high-street stores but now encompasses restaurants and concessions in some of the world's largest and most respected corporate organisations and public spaces, such as the British Film Institute and the Victoria & Albert museum. It currently has six high-street shops; catering operations at four museums; four restaurants, including the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen in London's Hyde Park and Oxford's Ashmolean Dining Room; a delivery kitchen in Bermondsey; and more than 15 stores on corporate client sites. This year the company landed its biggest contract to date with a seven-year £35m heritage site deal that includes Edinburgh and Stirling castles. Since its acquisition by WSH Group in 2007 turnover at Benugo has doubled, from £13m to £26m at the end of 2009.

Ben and Hugo Warner - Career guide

Ben and Hugo Warner founded Benugo in 1998 with a site in London's Clerkenwell. Ben Warner is a chef who has worked for Raymond Blanc at Maison Blanc and learnt his trade in the South of France cooking on private yachts from 1983 to 1985. In 1990 he founded sandwich bar chain Harry Masons and from 1995 became the original franchisee of Pret A Manger, overseeing three sites. Hugo worked as sous chef to Henry Harris at Harvey Nichols before joining David Gleave at Winecellars where he became on-trade marketing manager for Enotria Winecellars.

In 2006 reports suggested the company was looking at floating on the Alternative Investment Market, having already netted high-profile clients such as Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers and UBS, but in the end the Warners ditched the idea and later became part of WSH.

Ben and Hugo Warner - What we think

At the rather large, one imagines, boardroom table of Benugo owner WSH Group the Warner brothers are said to favour a more casual style then their catering peers. Certainly, Benugo's success to date has been the combination of a restaurateur's eye for detail and a chameleon-like ability to fit in perfectly in any location provided, be it modern or historic, adapting the offer to suit, from formal restaurant to grab-and-go - all with colour, verve and humour.

In an industry often looking for the next identikit idea to roll out to hundreds of units, it's easy to see why Benugo has found its place among clients looking for something different. Of course, since joining WSH in 2007, the Benugo offer has had the extra selling point of considerable resources and financial backing, making it an even safer bet for clients ranging from City types to museum and leisure customers.

The question that's been asked since 2007 is: how long will the Warners be content to work within the confines of a large catering organisation? Some have suggested it won't be forever. But one thing's for sure: they're having a lot of fun building one of the most distinctive brands the food service sector has seen in a long time, offering, in their own words, "the flexibility of a contract caterer with the consistency and commercial focus of a high-street brand".

Ben and Hugo Warner - Further information

Benugo starts 2009 with two lucrative contract wins >>

Benugo to cater at London's Natural History Museum >>

Benugo website >>

Read more about the Caterersearch.com 100, the list of the most influential people, here >>

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