Graham Turner

21 September 2006
Graham Turner

Overall ranking: 7
Restaurateurs ranking: 2

Graham Turner is the chief executive of Tragus Holdings, one of the UK's largest independent restaurant groups. Its 160 mid-market casual dining venues serve more than 12 million meals a year and employ in excess of 3,800 staff.

Its key brands are the Parisian bistro-style Café Rouge chain, the Italian Bella Italia portfolio and, potentially, a new Spanish concept called Ortega.

Graham Turner - Career guide
Graham Turner is a chartered accountant with background in property and service companies, where he gained valuable experience in fundraising and mergers and acquisitions.

He served as managing director of the Unique Pub Company, which was created by Punch chief executive Giles Thorley in 1998 and sold to Enterprise Inns in early 2004. Graham Turner was part of the team that grew the business from 2,600 to 4,000 venues.

He joined Tragus as chief executive in January 2005 when new owner, Legal & General Ventures (LGV), acquired the group and installed a new management team.

Graham Turner - What we think Graham Turner's appointment as chief executive of Tragus Holdings has heralded an acceleration in the expansion of the group's core brands.

The brands acquired by Tragus Holdings were seen as tired and the first management team ploughed more than £8m into revitalising the business.

They changed the menus, rebranded Bella Pasta as Bella Italia to sell more pizzas, restored Café Rouge to its core French bistro heritage, increased outdoor dining facilities across the chain, and extended opening hours.

Their success won the group the Retailer Award for Turnaround Brand of the Year in 2005 for the Café Rouge chain.

So when Turner came on board in January 2005 with new owners LGV, he was free to focus on expansion thanks to LGV's £107m package to buy the group and a more recent £138m refinancing package in May 2006. This was joined in May 2006 by a £138m refinancing package

The plan is to open around 12 new restaurants each year for the next three years of which most will be Café Rouge and Bella Italia - Turner sees scope for up to 200 Café Rouges in time.

However, a third new brand that Turner introduced this July may become a contender for new sites if the first three venues are successful.

With classic French and classic Italian restaurants under his belt, Turner has decided to take on Spanish operator La Tasca with his own brand, Ortega (a traditional Spanish name).

The first opened in Harlow, Essex, on the site of a former Bella Italia and the second is a conversion of the group's London brasserie, the Leadenhall Wine and Tapas Bar.

Ortega is a more entertainment-led brand, with a more defined bar area and a greater appeal to a younger crowd and will focus on leisure parks and the traditional evening entertainment circuits.

Turner has also beefed up the group's mystery diner programme to six visits a year for every restaurant to maintain service levels.

Although he admits the restaurants' classic café and trattoria styling is unfashionable, he says they remain a hit with diners.

- "There's a tendency to overcomplicate things, but you've got to be very obvious and very clear," Turner told Caterer in 2005. "People look at our offerings and understand them immediately."

In the year to May 2006, Tragus boosted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation by 32% to £22m on sales that rose by 11% to £130m.

Graham Turner - Further information

Tragus profile on CatererSearch

Tragus official website

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

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