The best of the best in the hospitality industry were recognised at MCA’s 2021 Retailer’s Retailer Awards, which were broadcast live on 11 March.

The awards, hosted by comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner, saw 11 awards handed out during the ceremony, with Emma Woods, chief executive of Wagamama, nominated by her peers as Retailer’s Retailer of the Year.

Nando’s was awarded the title of best company, in recognition of its constant innovation and almost unparalleled expansion, while Dishoom was named Best Concept for the third year in a row.

Island Poke – which has continued to expand through new channels during the pandemic – was awarded the title of Emerging Concept, while Scottish craft brewer and bar operator BrewDog was recognised with the Evolution Award for its ability to quickly shift and adapt during the various stages of the pandemic.

With its lavish décor, typical of a Richard Caring restaurant, The Ivy Asia in St Paul’s was named Best Venue. Pret A Manger took home the award for The Best Use of Technology, for its novel coffee subscription, accessed by a digital wallet.

The Restaurant Group was named as Investor of the Year for the work it has done to drive forward its growth brands – namely Wagamama and Brunning & Price, while Deal of the Year named as Côte Restaurants acquisition by Partners Group.

Bob Ivell, non-executive chairman at Mitchells & Butlers, was the worthy recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, while the Hero Award – a new award for 2021 – was given to Suzanne Baker, commercial and property director at Stonegate Pub Company, with Adelle Taylor, operations director at Côte Restaurants recognised with a Highly Commended award.



Retailers Retailer of the Year, sponsored by Uber Eats - Emma Woods
Emma Woods had big shoes to fill taking the reins at Wagamama, with her predecessors David Campbell and Jane Holbrook both former Retailers’ Retailer of the Year award winners. The CEO, who has a marketing background at Unilever, Pizza Express and Merlin, has confidently upheld the Pan-Asian brand’s positive momentum under its stewardship at The Restaurant Group, adapting under pressure to the havoc wrought by coronavirus. Having closed the estate in a cost-effective way, Woods relaunched Wagamama with innovative Japanese-style sliding screens, which were both brand-appropriate and safety conscious. One of the few brands to open new sites during the past 12 months, the company’s latest financial results under Woods show her careful cost management and shrewd rent deals saw adjusted EBITDA increase.

Best Company, sponsored by Diversey and Zenith Hygiene – Nando’s
Nando’s constant innovation and almost unparalleled expansion has been recognised time and again, as a Best Concept and Best Company multi-award winner, and this year is no different. Now the biggest restaurant group by outlet numbers and turnover in the UK, Nando’s was one of the few brands to expand in 2021. The business has rapidly accelerated its digital strategy during the last 12 months, launched a cashless order and pay app, click and collect service, and first of its kind ‘brought to you by Deliveroo’ option. At the same time as making sweeping changes to its supply chain, moving to digital and launching its first plant-based offer, Nando’s showed a determination to serve its customers through any and every restriction, and is a worthy winner of this year’s Best Company award.

Best Venue, sponsored by Chapman Ventilation - The Ivy Asia, St Pauls
Richard Caring’s venues are not known for skimping on interiors, and the Ivy Asia lives up to its owner’s reputation for a lavish decor. Replacing Jamie Oliver’s former Barbecoa site, the One new Change venue boasts life-size replicas of samurai warriors and geishas, and unparalleled views of St Paul’s cathedral. The concept, which was originally tested in Manchester’s Spitalfields, was developed off the back of the popularity of some of the Ivy’s signature dishes, such as the crispy duck salad. Featuring glowing green floors, swirling dragon-painted ceilings and a gold mirrored bar, the 200-cover venue is a picture of East Asian opulence.

Best Concept, sponsored by Molson Coors - Dishoom
Long-time favourite of the hospitality sector, Dishoom retains its title as Best Concept for the third year running. Founded by cousins Shamil and Kavi Thakrar in 2010, the compelling storytelling that characterises Dishoom is given a fresh twist with each new restaurant. Following the launch of its latest site in Birmingham last year, Dishoom now operates eight Irani-style Bombay cafés across four cities, each with their own rich narrative backstory. Venturing into delivery for the first time last year, its strength of concept and thoughtful design endured, allowing the brand to launch in seven sites in London and Brighton with Deliveroo Editions, alongside an all-new breakfast at home kit.

Evolution Award, sponsored by Pernod Ricard UK - BrewDog
The Scottish craft brewer and bar operator was quick to face up to the graveness of the pandemic, rapidly shifting gears with a number of initiatives, such as producing and distributing hand sanitizer to the NHS. The craft beer company upped its direct to consumer channels, distributing beer straight to people’s homes. And more recently it was one of the first to offer its venues for use as vaccination centres. In more familiar territory, BrewDog launched its fifth and final round of Equity for Punks, this raise purely focussed on sustainability developments, including direct wind power for its breweries, CO2 recovery, electric vehicle fleets, and converting brewery waste into energy.

Emerging Concept, sponsored by Red Bull - Island Poke
Hawaiian-inspired Island Poke has aspirations to become the number one global poke brand. First emerging on London’s street-food market scene in 2015, founder James Gould-Porter, has expanded the business to 12 London sites, including four delivery-only kitchens. Backed by Chris Miller’s White Rabbit Fund, and with new investment from German Donner Kebab parent company Hero Brands, Island Poke plans to accelerate its expansion in 2021, with at least five more sites by the end of the year. The business has continued to expand during the pandemic, doubling in size the past year, with the new investment looking to boost Island Poke’s presence in the UK and internationally.

Deal of the Years, sponsored by AlixPartners - Côte Restaurants acquisition by Partners Group
The acquisition of Côte Restaurants by Partners Group has been named as the winner of the Deal of the Year award. Côte was acquired out of administration by global private markets investment manager Partners Group in September last year, after advisers FTI Consulting were appointed to explore its options and create a stronger financial structure. FTI sold the business in a pre-pack administration to three companies owned by Partners Group, securing the immediate future of 94 restaurants and 3,148 employees. Partners Group is reported to have “ambitious plans” for the business, with former Wagamama CEO Jane Holbrook leading the company as executive chair.

Investor of the Year, sponsored by BDO - The Restaurant Group
The Restaurant Group (TRG) has been awarded the title of Investor of the Year, after what was already proving a challenging period for the group coming into the pandemic. Chief executive Andy Hornby has had a formidable task in disposing of the legacy leisure estate at the group. But one division that won’t have given him such a headache is Wagamama, a brand that has continued its run as a standout market performer after its acquisition by TRG in 2018. After announcing a £175m equity raise in March 2021, TRG says it will capitalise on selective site expansion at Wagamama, concentrating on an urban footprint, as well as high-margin delivery-only kitchens.

The Best Use of Technology, sponsored by Lumina Intelligence - Pret A Manger for its Coffee Subscription
The winner of the Best Use of Technology Award, Pret’s novel coffee subscription was announced at a time after restaurants had enjoyed the boost of Eat Out to Help Out, but office-adjacent food-to-go was still waiting for footfall to return. Coming as the government tried to encourage workers back to work, the Your Barista service offered customers five drinks a day for a fixed monthly price of £20, accessed by a digital wallet. While footfall has yet to return the cities, the innovation behind the initiative is undeniable, with plans to develop the concept into new channels. The initiative quickly surpassed expectations, allowing the brand to tap into a new, younger consumer base, while the increased volumes kept baristas in work.

Lifetime Achievement, sponsored by Charles Russell Speechlys – Bob Ivell
Bob Ivell is not just one of the most experienced, but also one of the most successful leaders that the modern pub and restaurant sector has known. In a career spanning more than 40 years, he has been at the forefront of the food-led managed pub market. Cutting his teeth at Whitbread, he became managing director at Beefeater. More success came at Scottish & Newcastle, where was chairman and MD of its retail division. Building teams and supporting talent, he developed a group of divisional MDs destined for greater things, including Phil Urban and Steve Richards. His greatest success came in his current role as chairman at Mitchells & Butlers, a post he took on back in 2011. It was a turbulent time, but a decade on he is still at the helm, having steadied the ship and created an environment for to drive the business forward, with brands like Miller & Carter becoming a sector star.

The Hero Award, sponsored by Asahi - Suzanne Baker, Stonegate Pub Company
A bedrock figure at the biggest pub company in the UK, Suzanne Baker negotiated with suppliers and took on new property responsibilities and teams, all against the backdrop of Covid-19 and a massive pub estate integration. A very worthy winner of The Hero Award, Suzanne was nominated by Leisure PR boss Maureen Heffernan, who described her as “unflappable, calm and personable”. Throughout the pandemic, she orchestrated and managed the challenges of a huge and diverse supply chain, while dealing with the increased challenges after Stonegate purchased EI Group, two weeks prior to the first lock-down. “Suzanne epitomises professionalism behind the scenes of the biggest pub company in the UK,” Heffernan said.

Hero Award (Highly commended) - Adelle Taylor, Côte Restaurants
Described as the north star for her business throughout this pandemic, Adelle’s grace, good humour and steely determination were instrumental in bringing the Côte at Home concept to life, and see her recognised with a Highly Commended accolade. Nominated by Côte’s executive chair Jane Holbrook, she was described as “a beacon of light and inspiration through this pandemic, managing through her own illness, bringing humour to lighten the load for others, and leading the team through difficult times”. With Côte At Home, Adelle brought a sense of hope and belonging for the team, keeping many people employed, Holbrook added.