Overall ranking: 80 (70 in 2012)
Restaurateur ranking: 26 (19)
James Horler is chief executive of Ego Restaurants, part of restaurant group 3Sixty, of which he is a director. He is also an investor in fast-casual restaurant success story Leon Restaurants, as well as being a board director of Ping Pong restaurants and a non-executive director of Patisserie Valerie, Charterhouse Leisure and Cartwheel Recruitment. Having recently sold off three Rocket Restaurant sites in London, 3Sixty Restaurants' core brand is Ego Restaurants, which has 15 Mediterranean-inspired pubs and restaurants outside the capital.
What we think
Horler enjoyed something of a meteoric rise after embarking on his career in hospitality. He was born in 1965 and started work at 16 as a kitchen porter and waiter for Trusthouse Forte before progressing to conference and banqueting manager and food and beverage manager. After transferring to the group's roadside business, he quickly rose from unit manager to become Little Chef's youngest regional director at the age of 24. He then moved to Granada to oversee nine motorway service areas before becoming operations director at City Centre Restaurants, now the Restaurant Group, where he expanded its Frankie & Benny's brand from five to 65 outlets over five years.
In September 2001 Horler bought La Tasca for £28.2m with backing from private equity firm Penta Capital. In 2006, the restaurant chain (now part of Casual Dining Group) was at the centre of a bidding war with Café Rouge owner Tragus and investor Robert Tchenguiz. Tchenguiz ultimately won and rolled the business into his Laurel Pub Company, although that was put into administration in 2008. That same year, Horler returned to the restaurant market, acquiring Mediterranean-influenced casual restaurant chain Ego from founders Jason Ellison and Jonathan Poole. He has grown the business to 15 sites.
Last year was one of change for 3Sixty Restaurants. Having brought investor Luke Johnson on board in 2010 and merged pizza business Rocket Restaurants with Ego under the 3Sixty banner in 2011, the group was primed for major expansion. However, the focus shifted somewhat. Early in 2017, the directors of 3Sixty decided to exit its three Rocket sites and sold them to Novus Leisure for an undisclosed sum, a decision driven by the likelihood of increasing rents and business rates. That left 3Sixty to concentrate on Ego.
Last year, turnover at the business rose 32% to £14.4m and the firm remains "cautiously optimistic" about the future. It's testament to Horler's management skills and his vision for the business that Ego Restaurants was placed fourth in The Caterer's Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards in 2017. In fact, Horler is dedicated to giving back to the industry in which he has forged such a successful career, not least as life patron of industry charity Springboard. Extremely well connected and respected among his peers, Horler's influence in hospitality extends well beyond his business interests.
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