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Top 100: David Loewi and Des Gunewardena, D&D London

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Top 100: David Loewi and Des Gunewardena, D&D London

Overall ranking: 19 (19 in 2012)
Restaurateur ranking: 5 (5 in 2012)

Snapshot
D&D London, formed out of what was Conran Restaurants, has some 40 restaurants. Most are based in the UK, but it has four elsewhere, including Alcazar in Paris, Botanica and Iconic in Tokyo, and Gustavino’s in New York. Among its best-known UK restaurants are the Michelin-starred Angler, in the South Place hotel in London, also operated by D&D London, Paternoster Chop House, Quaglino’s and Coq d’Argent, also in the capital. The firm has also ventured outside London, with Crafthouse and Angelica at Trinity Leeds, and in March it is due to open its first Manchester eatery – 20 Stories in No 1 Spinningfields.

What we think
David Loewi and Des Gunewardena created D&D London with a management buyout of Conran Restaurants in 2006. The firm’s most recent financial figures show revenue of £123.3m but a £4.1m pre-tax loss for the year to 31 March 2017.
The company specialises in large, prestigious, design-led restaurants with a focus on quality and boasts some big-name chefs (Francesco Mazzei, Helena Puolakka and Ben Murphy) in is talent pool.

According to Gunewardena, D&D London came about because he and Loewi had reached a point as chief executive and managing director of Conran Restaurants where they saw restaurants and hotels as the future, whereas chairman Sir Terence Conran was more focused on shops and design, so they agreed that Loewi and Gunewardena should buy the restaurants.

Gunewardena has since had his differences with Conran, his former mentor, and in 2016 failed in a complex legal battle in which he claimed he had been short-changed by more than £3m when he parted company with Conran Holdings. Asked in court if he had ever had a previous falling out with Gunewardena, the veteran designer and restaurateur joked: “Well, I never punched him.”

Nonetheless, Gunewardena and Loewi have proven very successful businessmen in their own right and their vision seems to have been borne out by the fact that Conran himself is still very much involved in restaurants, via Claude Bosi’s Bibendum and his stake in London restaurant and hotel operator Prescott & Conran. Loewi has also served chairman of the Restaurant Association (now part of UKHospitality).

Not thought to be great fans of the idea of Brexit, and with a large quotient of European workers among the ranks of their company, Gunewardena and Loewi may find the coming years a little tougher. But they continue to expand, and keep up the quality of their estate through regular refurbishments.

In an interview with The Caterer, Gunewardena said: “What makes a successful restaurateur is really understanding the dynamics of how to be a success. Sometimes you can design something and it might work for a while; a successful restaurateur will have the vision of how to evolve that so that it continues to be successful.”

The partners are in favour of rolling out more branded operations. Bluebird in Chelsea, a neighbourhood restaurant on a grand scale, as D&D London’s own website describes it, opened a new outpost at Television Centre in London’s White City in April, and another iteration will find its way to the third floor of the Time Warner Centre in New York later in the year. If they are successful, D&D London may well look at more opportunities to roll out its brands.

There has also been speculation in the past that the business may eventually float on the stock exchange, something still relatively rare for restaurant groups in the UK.

Further information
Mad for it: Aiden Byrne on his new Manchester restaurant, 20 Stories >>

First glimpse inside new Bluebird Café in Television Centre >>

Des Gunewardena’s £3m court claim against Conran fails >>

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