Obituary: Tim Bacon, restaurateur

Restaurateur Tim Bacon was an innovator in the UK. Picture: Contributed

Restaurateur Tim Bacon was an innovator in the UK. Picture: Contributed

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Born: 24 March 1964, Romford, Essex. Died 29 April 2016, Manchester, aged 52.

Tim Bacon was an entrepreneur, restauranteur but above all an inspirational innovator in the UK eating and drinking-out industry, creating some the country’s truly outstanding dining experiences, frequented by not only “modern day celebrities”, such as reality stars and Wags, but actors, sports men and women, wealthy individuals and corporations.

With an empire that included Edinburgh and Glasgow, Manchester, Chester and Liverpool, Leeds, London, his company, Living Ventures group employs over 2,500 people, with turnover forecast this year at £100 million.

Whether developing cocktail bars, pubs or fine dining eateries, his trademark emphasis on style, quality and attention to detail was always evident.

From humble beginnings, where he and his brother 
had to deal with local Mancunian gangs, Bacon transformed the restaurant and bar scene with a series of brands that included the Alchemist cocktail bar chain, Gusto, the Italian restaurant group, pub group New World Trading Company, high-end sushi hot spot Australasia, Artisan, eight The Grill restaurants from Glasgow to London, and his £3m venture, the pricey, but popular lounge bar Manchester House, located on the 12th floor of an imposing office block in Spinningfields, Manchester, with Michelin star chef Aiden Byrne, where the tasting menu costs £95/head.

Widely admired both professionally and privately for his vibrant, honourable and generous spirit, with his astute negotiation skills, incisive business analysis and mental arithmetic, Bacon’s co-founder Jeremy Roberts said, “Tim had an uncanny ability to come out of any situation smelling of roses” and colleagues affectionately called him “Teflon Tim”.

Born in Essex, Timothy Alan Bacon spent his early life growing-up in Tasmania with his mother, Saaskia, and father, Alan, an engineer in the Merchant Navy. Determined to become an actor, he attended drama school from which he was offered the part of Chris Bainbridge in the successful Australian soap, Sons and Daughters, appearing in 25 episodes; he later turned down a part in Neighbours.

Instead he relocated to London, in 1987, where he started work as a bartender at the new TGI Friday’s in Covent Garden, and soon became head bartender and an accomplished mixologist.

Following success at a national cocktail competition, he set-up his own consultancy, Bar Biz Training in 1989. Shortly after, he appeared on Terry Wogan’s chat show, recalling, “I was supposed to make one cocktail but ended up being on the whole programme.”

This led to a consultancy role assisting with the opening of Chalon Court Hotel, which took him to Manchester for the first time. “I fell in love with the place straight away,” he said. Bacon also realised, however, that the city lacked any discernible fashionable fine dining.

In 1993, Bacon and friend David Hinds bought a run-down bar, JW Johnsons. Expansion was slow, selling before embarking onto another venture; Johnsons sold, Via Vita, a Mediterranean-style bar-restaurant, was established and blossomed into seven outlets, before being sold in 1998. Bacon and his partners then started the Life Café in Liverpool and Manchester, which he described as “a big beast of an operation,” and sold in 2000.

At Living Ventures, Bacon and Roberts helped to change Britain’s bar scene. By the millennium, they had opened the Living Room in Manchester, growing the cocktail bars to 34 sites before selling them to Ultimate Leisure (2007); it nurtured many of today’s leading bartenders and bar owners.

They also developed bar concept Prohibition, sold to Ultimate Leisure (2005). That same year, they bought the Est Est Est restaurant chain, converting it into their own Gusto bar-restaurants; a 15th site is due to open later this year. Bacon was also behind Red Door bars in Chester and Liverpool, with another due soon in Manchester.

Bacon fought lymphoma for 16 years but was diagnosed with advanced melanoma in 2014. He continued to work, recently opening a Gusto in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.

Married three times, Bacon admitted he had “a wild, tempestuous twenties, but I got over that by the time I was 30.” He married Debbie (1984; one son); married Caroline (1992); married Karine (2000), two children.

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