Australian entrepreneur James Miller, who co-founded food franchise Sumo Salad before turning his attention to the re-launch of old Sydney pubs, has died of a suspected drug overdose.
Miller, who was believed to be 38, studied at the University of Canberra before moving to Sydney to work at a small internet service provider.
He founded Sumo Salad in his 20s alongside fellow Sydneysider Luke Baylis.
After spending several years in New York – where they became disheartened by the prevalence of unhealthy food – Miller and Baylis decided to set up a healthy food franchise in Australia.
The idea was primarily to offer fresh, “design your own”, made-to-order salads. They chose the name Sumo Salad to reflect the chain’s large and filling salads.
The first Sumo Salad store opened in the Sydney CBD in 2003. It cost $200,000 to open the store. Within five years, the business was recording revenues of $30 million.
There are now plans to triple the company’s 100 stores following an acquisition by the Tulla Group, which is run by the wealthy Maloney family.
After making his fortune from Sumo Salad, Miller set up a company called Drink N Dine with his business partner and close friend Jamie Wirth.
Drink N Dine has overseen the transformation of old Sydney pubs, such as The Norfolk and The Carrington, by doing away with poker machines and focusing on high quality food.
Miller and Wirth opened their latest venue, Santa Barbara in Kings Cross, just last month.
It’s understood Miller died of an accidental overdose, and his death is not being treated as suspicious. He is survived by his four-year-old son.
Wirth has described Miller as “endlessly energetic, generous and intensely loyal”.
“His charisma would light up a room and his stories would keep me entertained in the office for hours,” he said in a statement.
“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.”