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Top 100: Luke Johnson, Risk Capital Partners

19 April 2018 by
Top 100: Luke Johnson, Risk Capital Partners

Overall ranking: 14 (46 in 2012)

Restaurateur ranking: 3 (13 in 2012)


What we think Johnson was educated at the Langley Grammar School in Langley, Berkshire, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he started studying medicine but switched to physiological sciences.

He and fellow student Hugh Osmond (later founder of Punch Taverns) 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 PizzaExpress. They expanded the business from 12 restaurants to over 250. After selling up in 1995, Johnson then founded Signature Restaurants, snapping up star-studded London haunts 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.

He acquired a stake in family-friendly restaurant chain Giraffe in 2004 before it was sold to Tesco for £50m in 2013, 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 to merge it with Rocket Restaurants to form umbrella company 3Sixty Restaurants. He is a majority owner of caterer the Genuine Dining Co, which last year acquired Feng Sushi. In 2016, he took a 12.5% stake in Elegant Hotels Group and has recently sold his share in the Draft House group of 14 pubs to BrewDog.

When it comes to group restaurant entrepreneurs, Johnson stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. His ongoing influence on the industry has been so significant that Richard Harden, co-founder of the Harden's restaurant guides, declared: "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."

Although still well-known for his involvement in PizzaExpress, Johnson has more recently taken an interest in hospitality businesses operating across the sector, from cafés and restaurants to hotels and contract caterers. His talent in developing brands is also renowned. Speaking to The Caterer in 2012, his business partner James Horler said: "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 being incredibly talented at understanding the consumer."

Johnson was one of the few hospitality industry leaders to speak out in favour of Brexit. A well-known optimist, he has a characteristically confident view of the UK's post-Brexit prospects. In a column in The Times in September 2017, he wrote: "Whether you regard the future optimistically or pessimistically determines the course of your life. By the nature of their job, entrepreneurs must adopt a positive outlook: they defer rewards now for the prospect of something greater tomorrow." Let's hope he's right.

Further information

Raising dough: Patisserie Holdings eyes Gail's takeover bid >>

Luke Johnson stepping down from Gaucho Group board >>

The Big Interview: Luke Johnson entrepreneur >>

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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