Our monthly columnist from The Times hands out his annual awards to brands and operators who have made the past 12 months newsworthy – for better or for worse

CEO of the Year

When Richard Hodgson quit as CEO of PizzaExpress two and a half years ago, it looked like the ex-retailer’s career in casual dining may have come to an abrupt end. Not so. Within a few months, he was receiving the CEO’s baton at Yo! Sushi from the formidable Robin Rowland and what a transformation he has wrought.

Having joined the group in the aftermath of its C$100m acquisition of Bento, the North American sushi group, Hodgson has used his retail skills – and further deals - to turn Yo! into a broadly based international Japanese food business. It still has restaurants but these are now but one part of a wider Yo! group and even here he is trying out new things, introducing a full-service Yo! Kitchen, the self explanatory Yo! To Go and even - whisper it quietly - trialling the removal of the famous kaiten conveyor belt. All in all a worthy winner (though a shout out to Steve Holmes at Azzurri Group, who continues to navigate his way skilfully through the casual dining carnage).

IPO of the Year

Given the lack of competition for this category, the danger might be that Loungers wins the trophy by default. That would be hugely unfair. Loungers scores on almost every metric. Having trimmed back the size of the listing to ensure it got away safely (hell, even Fevertree had to do that and look where that’s ended up!), it got off to a strong start and although the wider political and sector-specific pressures eventually ate away at the share price, it has since bounced back above April’s 200p float price while outperforming the competition in trading terms and continuing to maintain a strong pipeline of new openings. All in all a thoroughly professional job from Nick Collins and his team.

Deal of the Year

No shortage of candidates here, though the judges (ie me) decided there was no point in looking anywhere but at a trio of pub sector deals that, in very different ways, will change the industry landscape.

First there was the £250m sale of its brewing business by Fuller’s to Asahi, of Japan. There’s no faulting the price or strategic rationale, but in the end I decided I couldn’t give an award to a deal that may yet turn out to have robbed one of the great pub businesses of its some of its heart and soul. It was, after all, only four years ago that CEO Simon Emeny assured me that the beer business “defines what we do and makes us the special company we are”.

Then there’s the £3bn takeover of Ei Group – Enterprise Inns as was – by Stonegate Pub Co. An audacious and exciting move by any measure, but sadly disqualified from winning this title by the need to address

51 areas of local competition identified by the Competition and Markets Authority, pushing completion into the first quarter of next year.

Which brings us to the £4.5bn takeover of Greene King by Li-Ka-shing, one of Asia’s richest men. Unlike Fuller’s, the billionaire seems quite keen on brewing and he’s also taking the long view of his new business, regarding the deal as a unique opportunity to acquire a historic, traditional, asset-based business with significant long-term growth potential. Our stock market may not have appreciated Greene King’s attractions, but Mr Li certainly does and for that he gets the deal of the year.

CVA of the Year

Not quite the vintage year of last year, but a strong line-up of candidates nevertheless. As recently as a few days ago Chilango made a late run for the title, while in November it was Tossed’s turn to go under the dreaded CVA scalpel. Other candidates included Thai Leisure Group, Abokado, Polpo and Benito’s Hat, but the award goes to Boparan Restaurant Group, which was forced to put its Giraffe and Ed’s Easy Diner brands through a CVA three years after buying them. The lesson from this? Just because something looks dirt cheap, doesn’t mean you should buy it.

Business of the Year

This award is shared by two businesses that are much admired not only by their customers but by their industry peers:

Mowgli and Dishoom.

In the first instance, the plaudits go to former barrister Nisha Katona, who over the past five years has built a wonderful Indian street food business that is about to open restaurant no.11 in Bristol. Not only that; she has created a business with a social purpose and has found time to write books and appear regularly on radio and TV.

When Dishoom took over the former Jamie’s Italian at Upper St Martin’s Lane in the summer in order to expand its original Covent Garden site it felt like a changing of the guard. It may be a decade since the original site opened, but the Dishoom formula is as fresh and exciting as ever. Like Mowgli, it also looks to make a difference, donating 7 million meals to kids who would otherwise go hungry.

Quote of the Year

I make no excuses for awarding this title to past winner Tim Martin. The Wetherspoons boss is simply the king of the quip – even when you get him off his favourite topics of Brexit and tax. At last month’s AGM he spent much of his time chiding the “box-ticking institutions” about corporate governance, but he reserved some of his best material for his loyal band of small shareholders.

Asked whether he had any thoughts of retiring, he replied: “I’m 40 years in the company next month, and I’m hoping for another 40, then I’ll decide.”

Grump of the year

Step forward Luke Johnson. OK, Luke, so I know you went to hell and back with Patisserie Valerie. And I know you probably didn’t enjoy reading much of what was written about you in the papers.

But was it not just a teency weency bit petulant when you found yourself sitting next to me at the Fevertree tennis championships to declare loudly “I’m not sitting next to you” and asking our somewhat embarrassed host, Tim Warrillow, if you could swap seats with somebody else. Let’s not forget that PatVal was the company where you were chairman and the biggest shareholder – a company that went spectacularly bust in a frenzy of fraudulent accounting, costing people their livelihoods. A worthy winner, ladies and gentlemen, and with that I wish you a prosperous and successful 2020.