Business Leader of the Year 2023, sponsored by Poppleston Allen: Sarah Willingham

By The Morning Advertiser

- Last updated on GMT

Shock factor: Sarah Willingham told The Morning Advertiser she was surprised to win the accolade
Shock factor: Sarah Willingham told The Morning Advertiser she was surprised to win the accolade

Related tags Events Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office Publican awards

Entrepreneur, investor and CEO of Nightcap Sarah Willingham was named Business Leader of the Year at the 2023 Publican Awards.

The business chief has extensive experience in the hospitality sector, starting her career at Planet Hollywood and then PizzaExpress where she led the company’s international expansion.

Willingham appeared as a ‘dragon’ on BBC’s Dragons’ Den ​as well as being a judge and investor on The Restaurant​.

Formerly a director of the Clapham House Group where she co-owned, developed and sold the Bombay Bicycle Club, Willingham was also responsible for the development of The Real Greek and Tootsies brands alongside the combined estate of 47 restaurants.

Business history

The entrepreneur launched Nightcap​ almost three years ago with London Cocktail Club (now The Cocktail Club), which Willingham was a co-founder, its first acquisition.

Its aim was to take advantage of the opportunity to acquire and grow drinks-led businesses and is focused on simple, replicable business models with nationwide roll-out potential, centred around the guest’s social experience.

In May 2021, the company completed its second purchase through the purchase of Adventure Bar Group​ for an undisclosed sum.

Acquisition trail

Later in the same year (November), Nightcap acquired Barrio Familia, expanding the company’s then estate by five sites.

Willingham told The Morning Advertiser​’s sister title MCA​ in 2021, the business had “the money in the bank [to] grow as quickly as we possibly can, sustainably”.

Since its inception, Nightcap has opened more than a dozen new sites, with a current estate of over 30 venues.

Earlier this year (January), the business revealed it was bringing The Cocktail Club, Adventure Bar Group and Barrio, including Disrepute, together and run as a single group.

On being named Business Leader of the Year, Willingham said: “I was so surprised, I just didn’t expect it. I thought ‘you’ve not been here long enough’. I was just so happy, I am really made up.”

See the full list of 2023 Publican Awards winners here​.

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