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Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: James Horler, 3Sixty Restaurants

01 July 2011
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: James Horler, 3Sixty Restaurants

Overall ranking: 54 (ranked 68 in 2010)

Restaurant ranking: 17 (ranked 21 in 2010)

James Horler - Snapshot

James Horler is the man who built up and ultimately sold the 70-strong Spanish tapas chain La Tasca , although he didn't create it. He was executive chairman of the now eight-strong Ego Restaurants group, but since its merger in March 2011 with the three-strong family-owned Rocket Restaurants, he has become chief executive of the new umbrella group 3Sixty Restaurants. Annualized sales are now expected to be £12m.

James Horler - Career guide

James Horler, who was born in 1965, started his career at 16 as a kitchen porter and waiter for Trusthouse Forte. He progressed to conference and banqueting manager and food and beverage manager before transferring to the group's roadside business. Here, he quickly rose from unit manager to become Little Chef's youngest regional director at the age of 24.

Horler moved to Granada to oversee nine motorway service areas with an annual turnover of £210m and 2,900 staff. From 1996, Horler was 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. Early 2005 saw the group float for £54m on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), with Penta retaining a 23% stake.

In 2006, La Tasca 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.

In 2008 Horler returned to the restaurant market, acquiring Mediterranean-influenced casual restaurant chain Ego from founders Jason Ellison and Jonathan Poole.

In the same year he quit his role as non-executive chairman at healthy fast-food chain Leon , citing a "lack of confidence in the executive team's ability to deliver". In December 2010, Horler joined Charterhouse Leisure, the firm behind the Coal Bar & Grill brand, as non-executive chairman.

In March 2011, Ego merged with pizza business Rocket Restaurants under a new umbrella company called 3Sixty Restaurants. 3Sixty Restaurants will comprise eight Ego Restaurants in the Midlands and the North, and three Rocket restaurants in central London. Group annual sales for the new business will be in excess of £12m.

James Horler - What we think

Horler's casual dining chain was set for a national roll-out ahead of the recession, but that has slowed. The chain, which is based in the Midlands and the North, has exited from sites at the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Glasgow Prestwick airport, and at the beginning of 2011 it closed two underperforming restaurants in Leeds and Albert Square, Manchester.

Horler said the recent closures would allow the company to focus on growing the business.

The arrival of former PizzaExpress chairman Luke Johnson, who acquired a majority stake in Ego for an undisclosed sum late last year has shaken up the company. At the time Horler commented: "This is a real opportunity for us to… grow the business from where it is now into a much larger company over the next few years."

Certainly, the merger with Rocket Restaurants looks set to take Horler's business nationwide with the acquisition of more brands. With Johnson now chairman of the new umbrella company 3Sixty Restaurants and Horler in the role of chief executive, it's expected the business will generate significant returns in coming years.

James Horler's ranking in the 2010 Caterersearch.com 100 >>

Ego Restaurants merges with Rocket Restaurants >>

Ego closes two sites in Leeds and Manchester >>

James Horler joins Coal as non-exec chairman >>

Ego restaurants website >>

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