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2014 Winner: Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts, Living Ventures
When the BBC TV series Restaurant Wars aired earlier this year, charting the progress of two new Manchester restaurants aiming to win a Michelin star, it was Tim Bacon who was the face of Living Ventures, the company behind Aiden Byrne's Manchester House.
Bacon (above right) is perhaps more used to the limelight, having played Chris Bainbridge in the Australian TV soap Sons and Daughters in his youth. But ever since 1996, when they opened Via Vita together, he has worked closely with business partner Jeremy Roberts.
Together they have created one of the most successful and admired restaurant and bar businesses in the UK. Knutsford-based Living Ventures now has in excess of 30 sites in a variety of different formats, including the Alchemist, Australasia, Gusto, Blackhouse and the New World Pub Company. Now, with Manchester House, they have businesses that span the whole cross section of the bar and restaurant industry, from pubs to a fine-dining restaurant and everything in between.
Speaking about his partnership with Roberts, Bacon told The Caterer in a recent interview: "It was his wife that introduced me to him but we have been together ever since. e have a strong and equal partnership. To me, you have got to understand where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are. eremy does all the things that I don't do well."
Perhaps that is why Living Ventures and its founders have already picked up numerous awards, including the Best Entrepreneur Award for Bacon at the Manchester Talk Awards last year, a 2012 Peach Factory Hero & Icon Awards newcomer award for New World Pub Company, and ninth place for Living Ventures in last year's Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For.
While most of the group's sites are in the North West, it is now planning expansion in London, with an Alchemist set to open adjacent to the Gherkin in the City, and an Australasia at an as-yet-unidentified 8,500 sq ft site.
The company has also been extremely successful in spotting the potential of Manchester's Spinningfields district early, and thanks to a close relationship with developer Allied London has made a success of opening eight independently branded sites in close proximity to each other, none of which cannibalise each other's trade, and all of which understand the local market in a way that some other national operators have failed to do. "Manchester is not London. They are quite independent up here and they like what they like," Bacon explained recently. "You can't dictate to them, and they are not nearly as romantic as Londoners. As a result, if they don't like it, they just don't care. I is as simple as that." Bacon said of his career in hospitality: "I like catering a lot because it involves people and it is always moving - you are not static and stuck behind a desk. I couldn't conceive of doing anything else now."
What the judges said
The judges were full of praise for Bacon and Roberts, lauding their status as "astute businessmen with strong values" who pay close attention to all of their sites, which operate in a number of different cities across the north of England. hey also highlighted the quality of the brands that Living Ventures has developed - all of them quirky, but none of them compromising each other. One judge added that Bacon and Roberts' achievement in the field of restaurants and bars has been "nothing short of amazing".
Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts Living Ventures
Mark Selby and Thomasina Miers Wahaca
Karen Forrester TGI Friday's
Eren Ali Founder director, Las Iguanas
Paul Ettinger Business development director, Caffè Nero
James Horler Chief executive, 3Sixty Restaurants
Chief executive officer, YO! Sushi