Mitchell Tonks

21 September 2006
Mitchell Tonks

Mitchell Tonks

Overall ranking: 92 (New entrant)

Restaurateurs ranking: 27 (New entrant)

Mitchell Tonks is the co-founder and chief executive of FishWorks, an award-winning and rapidly-growing chain that has broken new ground by combining a fishmongers, a fish café and a seafood cookery school on every site.

The first branches were opened in Bath, Bristol and Christchurch (in Dorset) while subsequent openings focused on London.

Tonks has also developed a home delivery seafood company, FishWorks Direct.

Mitchell Tonks - Career guide

Born in 1966, Mitchell Tonks spent his first 24 years on and in the sea, where he developed his passion for seafood.

After working as an accountant, he decided to take the plunge in 1995 and opened a specialist fishmongers shop in Bath with his business partner Roy Morris. Soon after, he opened a seafood cookery school on the premises following the runaway success of the lessons he had been conducting in customers' homes.

Mitchell Tonks added the Seafood Café to the Bath shop in 1997, laying down the blueprint for future FishWorks restaurants.

The group floated on the Alternative Investment Market in June 2005. In March 2006, Tonks dropped his title of executive director and took on the role of chief executive from Morris, who became executive chairman.

Mitchell Tonks - What we think

Mitchell Tonks - neatly summed up by the Evening Standard's Victor Lewis-Smith as an "a-fish-ionado" - has been compared to Rick Stein in his indefatigable mission to enthuse the public with his passion for fresh seafood.

Tonks started out as a fishmonger but quickly added chef and restaurateur to his CV. He is now actively involved in running the restaurants and cookery schools and overseeing the home delivery service.

After opening the first Seafood Café in Bath, the group raised £850,000 to fund its expansion through a public offer of shares on OFEX.

Tonks used the cash to open new restaurants in Christchurch and Bristol, launch the home delivery service FishWorks Direct in late 2002, and make his London debut in Chiswick in 2003, followed by a second branch in Marylebone the following year.

In June 2005, the group floated on the Alternative Investment Market, raising £3.8m to fuel its expansion from five to19 branches by July 2008.

Since then, FishWorks has opened seven new branches in London (all but one in 2006). The drive culminated in the opening of the 12th restaurant in Chelsea in October 2006 which, with 72 seats, is the group's biggest to date. A FishWorks concession that opened in Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge store in July 2005 brought prestige but lower-than-expected sales and Tonks elected in 2006 to abandon this venture to focus on his restaurant chain.

In early 2006, Tonks cannily secured the supply lines for FishWorks Direct by buying his Devon-based supplier, Channel Fish, for £647,000.

This rapid expansion took a short-term toll on the bottom line. The group made a loss of £228,000 in the 17 months to July 2005, but is forecasting a return to the black with a £250,000 profit for the following year.

Tonks was voted Restaurateur of the Year by Tatler magazine in 2006 to crown a string of accolades that started with the 1997 Best Fishmonger award from the Food in Britain Agency and Country Living Magazine.

They include Best Seafood Restaurant in the 2000 Which? Good Food Guide and Best Fish Restaurant for Chiswick and Marylebone in the Tio Pepe London ITV restaurant awards of 2005.

Tonks also finds time to attend a variety of events and demos around the country and has run specialist seafood courses for Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden in Sussex and for the Guild of Food Writers.

He has also forged long-term relationships with equipment supplier Aga and chilled and frozen seafood suppler Youngs Bluecrest, with whom he launched a new Youngs Mitchells Tonks range in 2006.

Like Stein, he has also communicated his passion through the media. As well as writing three books on seafood and contributing to another six, Tonks has become a regular guest on TV food programmes following the success of his own 13-part series on the Carlton Food Network, Fish Food. He also writes a regular column in the Bristol Evening Post and the Aga quarterly magazine.

Mitchell Tonks - Further information

FishWorks official website

Mitchell Tonks recipe books on Amazon

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

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