A clear endorsement from the judges made Andrew Guy this year's Group Restaurateur of the Year. One judge said: "He has turned a business that was clanking towards the coast back into open sea."
Guy started at City Centre in 1993 as managing director of Garfunkel's Restaurants. He relaunched the 20-year-old brand, developing it from three airport outlets in 1993 into the second-largest airport food and beverage operator in the UK, with 27 locations in five airports.
In 1995, he also took responsibility for Chiquito's Mexican Restaurants - now the biggest Tex-Mex chain in the country with 25 locations. But perhaps he is most associated with Frankie & Benny's New York Italian restaurants, which has become one of the UK's fastest-growing full-service chains.
Guy took over from James Naylor as chief executive of City Centre Restaurants, one of the UK's largest publicly quoted restaurant companies, in 2000, and was given the challenge of reviewing the business to "identify the appropriate actions to maximise shareholder value".
He has since developed the company, which has 250 full-service restaurants, from being a hotchpotch of restaurants into a clearly focused group of five brands, Frankie & Benny's, Caffe Uno, Est Est Est, Chiquito's and Garfunkel's. All cater for families and serve about 20 million meals a year.
Guy has steered the company through a difficult period. In 2001, he sold off its Wok Wok, Deep Pan Pizza and OK Diner chains. In 2002, while Garfunkel's and Caffe Uno struggled against the competition, he went ahead and added 18 Frankie & Benny's outlets, raising the number to 87. It was a good move. The group made a pre-tax profit in the six months to June 30 that year of £6.06m, compared with a loss of £6.26m the previous year. Year-end results for last year saw pre-tax profits rise £1.2m.
Guy has 30 years' experience, most of it in the popular restaurant sector. He started as an area manager with Berni Inns Group and later Mansfield Brewery Company. In the late 1970s he moved to the USA and joined 1776 Restaurants Incorporated. On his return to the UK he worked with Bob Payton as operations director at My Kinda Town, where he stayed for nine years, opening restaurants in France, Spain, Germany and Ireland.
But Guy is not just a company man. The judges praised him as much for his contribution to the industry as for being a "great operator". He was chairman of the Restaurant Association from 2000 to 2002, and continues to promote recruitment, career and industry development programmes, which, as one admirer pointed out, was "despite the fact he runs a Plc".
DAVID COFFER Chairman, Davis Coffer Lyons
ROBBY ENTHOVEN Managing director, Nando's
IAN NEILL Chief executive, Wagamama
BRIAN TURNER Chef-restaurateur, Brian Turner Mayfair
SIMON WOODROFFE Founder, Yo!
2002 Robby Enthoven
2001 Ian Neill
2000 Simon Woodroffe
1999 Adam & Sam Kaye
1998 Neville Abraham & Laurence Isaacson
1997 Jeremy Mogford
1996 David Page
1995 John Barnes
1994 Roger Myers
1993 Max Woolfenden
1992 Allen Jones
1991 Wess Van Riemsdijk
1990 Alan Jackson
1989 Peter Boizot