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Independent Restaurateur of the Year – Cateys 2009

10 July 2009
Independent Restaurateur of the Year – Cateys 2009

THE WINNER: James Thomson
Sponsored by: Brakes

The Restaurateur of the Year - Independent award is one of the most fiercely contested of the Cateys, and one of the most prestigious too. A tough line-up of competitors faces the winner of this category every year, so it's a testament to the culinary vision and business acumen of this year's winner that he emerged victorious.

The restaurateur in question is James Thomson, who is responsible for some of Edinburgh's most opulent and famous restaurants, which have helped revitalise the city's historic Old Town and proved a major draw for international tourists.

Thomson has been a fixture on the Edinburgh hospitality scene for 30 years since becoming Scotland's youngest licensee when, aged 20, he opened the Witchery by the Castle in 1979.

His empire, which now employs more than 250 staff, encompasses the Witchery, the Secret Garden and Tower restaurants, the seven Witchery Suites, and the five-star Prestonfield House hotel, which houses the Rhubarb restaurant.

The judges praised the longevity of Thomson's restaurants. "The Witchery is an Edinburgh institution," said one. "He has one of the best wine cellars in the country."

Another added: "Thomson is a restaurateur who has been running a successful business for 30 years and truly deserves the Catey."

Thomson's goal of creating magical dining experiences within unique and atmospheric settings has proved a major tourist magnet for the Scottish capital. His establishments, which are popular with A-list celebrities and locals alike, routinely evoke descriptions such as "theatrical", "romantic", "indulgent" and "decadently opulent" from reviewers.

But he has equally recognised that a restaurant is a business that needs to be run profitably and professionally to survive. Stock control and financial reporting are rigorous, and he is a daily presence at each of his ventures. Thomson has been at the forefront of technological developments within the industry. He was one of the first to install electronic point of sale and ordering systems and to launch a website for his restaurants. He was also the first restaurateur outside London to take real-time online bookings.

However, Thomson's dedication to hospitality goes beyond running a successful business, and his commitment to the industry was recognised with an OBE in 2005. His creative and financial success and his liberal support of tourism in Edinburgh and Scotland, of educational and training initiatives and of community charities won him the Silver Thistle award in 2004. His countless hospitality and tourism roles have included vice-chairman of the British Hospitality Association and Restaurant Association and founder member and past chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs' Association.

Thomson's high standards, business acumen and dedication to his industry have seen him rise way above many of his competitors. Or, in the words of one judge: "Thomson fits the criteria of this award perfectly. He ticks all of the boxes."

SHORTLISTED

  • Claude and Claire Bosi, Hibiscus
  • Chris and Jeff Galvin, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe and Galvin at Windows
  • James Thomson, owner, the Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh

THE JUDGES

  • Pascal Aussignac, chef-patron, Club Gascon
  • Anthony Demetre, chef-patron, Arbutus and Wild Honey
  • Paul Heathcote, chief executive, Heathcotes Restaurants
  • Paul Hickman, analyst, KBC Peel Hunt
  • Jacquie Pern, owner, the Star Inn at Harome
  • Richard Shepherd, managing director, Langans Brasserie
  • Alan Yau, proprietor, Hakkasan
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