100: James Horler

01 July 2010 100: James Horler

Overall ranking: 68

Restaurateur ranking: 21

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 is currently executive chairman of the 10-strong Ego Restaurants group, which was set for a national roll-out just ahead of the recession that has slowed its progress for now. The chain has the Midlands and the North in its sights initially, although it has exited from sites at the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Glasgow Prestwick airport. The company is reported to be on course to achieve pre-tax profit of £1m in 2010.

James Horler - Career history

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, 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.

La Tasca is currently part of Bay Restaurants, and a target for the likes of Laurel. Horler has expressed an interest in regaining control of the chain he built up into what it is today.

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".

James Horler - What we think

Recent reports suggest that Ego backer Lloyds may be looking to exit the business because of its disagreement with Horler and his team over where to take the brand. This could even lead to a sale of the entire chain and, if that's the case, it seems unlikely that Horler would continue.

Of course, although the competition is fierce and the product slightly tarnished since he oversaw its sale in 2006, Horler could yet return to head up La Tasca.

Regardless, the serial business builder has shown no interest in the quiet life and will be a force within the hospitality sector for some time. If he does decide to go it alone once more, his pedigree suggests he won't struggle to find backers, even in an era as financially constrained as this.

James Horler - Further information

James Horler - My Life in Hospitality >>

Man who built La Tasca back with new Ego project >>

Best Places to Work Winner's Profile: Ego restaurants >>

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

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