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Friends recall Sumo Salad founder James Miller

Published 15 January 2013 12:01, Updated 28 January 2013 10:10

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Friends recall Sumo Salad founder James Miller

James Miller, pub entrepreneur and co-founder of Sumo Salad, dies at age 38 James Brickwood

Pub entrepreneur, franchise creator and Sydney identity James Miller has died at the age of 38.

Miller first gained attention with the healthy food franchise Sumo Salad, which he co-founded with Luke Baylis, its managing director. The chain spread throughout shopping centres and internationally since its opening in 2003.

It was the fastest growing franchise in BRW’s Hot Franchises 2006.

Baylis says he is devastated by the sudden loss.

“Beyond his role as co-founder of Sumo Salad, James was my best friend and a respected colleague to many here,” he says.

“While James has not been involved in the business for many years, he will always be part of the Sumo Salad family and my heart goes out to his family and son at this very difficult time.”

Miller stopped working for Sumo Salad in 2009 and sold his share of the business last year to focus on his new business, Drink-N-Dine, which shook up Sydney’s pub scene in recent years with a string of openings that demoted poker machines and elevated food.

With Drink-N-Dine business partner Jaime Wirth, he shared a passion for restoring old pubs that had fallen out of favour.

The pair relaunched old city pubs such as the Norfolk Hotel in Redfern, the Abercrombie in Chippendale and the Forresters and the Carrington Hotel in Surry Hills. The pair opened Santa Barbara in Kings Cross last month.

Miller told Fairfax Media last year that they selected “the pubs that everyone walks away from” for their renovations.

Miller was found dead in his Sydney residence by his flatmate. It is believed he died of an accidental overdose, according to reports. All of Drink-N-Dine’s establishments were closed on Monday.

Wirth paid tribute to his business partner in a statement. “I will remember James as an endlessly energetic, generous and intensely loyal friend,” he said.

“He had a fierce business drive and intelligence but also a real understanding of what was important to him – friends, family and enjoying every day. I learnt a lot from James in business, friendship and life and I will miss him greatly.”

Wirth said his heart went out to Miller’s family, his young son Xavier and his “great number of friends”.

Sumo Salad began in 2003 with one store on Sydney’s Liverpool Street and now has 86 Australian stores, 74 of which are franchises. It has pursued an international expansion, opening stores in New Zealand, Dubai and Singapore.

Its London stores closed in late 2012, with the company citing the depressed economy as the cause for their failure.

BRW rich-listers the Maloney family took a 60 per cent stake in Sumo Salad late-last year through their investment firm the Tulla Group.

The Maloney family are valued by BRW at $560 million. They said they plan to more than triple the network of stores to 300.

Jetts Group managing director Adrian McFedries, a former Sumo Salad board member, says it takes a “special type of person” to start a company.

“James created great businesses and teams that had a very positive impact on people’s lives. He will be missed by many which is a mark of being one of life’s decent blokes,” McFedries says.

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