Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Des Gunewardena, D&D London

01 July 2011
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Des Gunewardena, D&D London

Overall ranking: 34 (ranked 17 in 2010)

Restaurateur ranking: 11 (ranked 6 in 2010)

Des Gunewardena - Snapshot

Des Gunewardena is chief executive and chairman of D&D London (previously Conran Restaurants), which operates more than 30 restaurants in London as well as successful restaurants in Paris, New York, Copenhagen and Tokyo. International partners include Hiramatsu in Japan (Botanica and Iconic); Centreplan in Denmark, for the Custom House development - although in November 2008 D&D took 100% ownership of the venue; and the Cuban government's Havana Holdings, which is a 25% shareholder in D&D's Floridita in London's Soho. The 30 restaurants generate aggregate revenues of about £75m a year. In the year to 31 March 2010 it posted yearly profits of £3.7m, up 32% on the previous year. It also reported a 3% increase in turnover, taking it from £68.2m to £70.4m.

Des Gunewardena - Career guide

Sri Lankan-born Gunewardena qualified as a chartered accountant with Ernst & Young in 1981.

In the mid-1980s he was responsible for financial planning at Heron International , a £1b group of companies with property, trading and financial interests in Europe and the USA. He then held a number of directorships at Heron companies.

Gunewardena started working with Conran Holdings in June 1991 and became chief executive of Conran Restaurants in 1995.

In September 2006, Gunewardena and David Loewi led a management buyout and acquired a 49% stake in the group. The deal valued the company at £50m and made 40 directors and managers shareholders. It included New York banqueting venue Guastavino's and Conran's investment in the Alternative Investment Market-listed Bank Restaurant Group (which became part of the Individual Restaurant Company in November 2006).

Backing for the deal was provided by HBOS, which committed £10m to fund new ventures, including restaurants in Copenhagen, Tokyo and London. Gunewardena became chairman and chief executive of the renamed restaurant group. In March 2007 the group changed its name to D&D London.

In June 2007, Gunewardena oversaw the purchase of the three-strong Image Restaurants, which owned the Avenue, Kensington Place and Launceston Place.

A year later, in a 50:50 equity deal, he backed Anna Hansen's Modern Pantry restaurant, which opened in London's Clerkenwell.

The 30 restaurants in D&D's portfolio to date include Almeida, Bluebird, Coq d'Argent, Paternoster Chop House, Royal Exchange Grand Café and Sauterelle in London.

Des Gunewardena - What we think

There were those who doubted whether the Conran concept could work without the Conran factor, but the fact the company has steadily expanded since Gunewardena and Loewi assumed full control of the renamed group's destiny suggest those concerns were unfounded.

Gunewardena faces a new challenge, however. D&D's Moorgate hotel is due to open in time for the Olympics in 2012, heralding a move into boutique hotels for the group. A deal was struck with developer Frogmore on 10 November 2009 whereby D&D will operate an 80-bedroom £50m luxury boutique hotel at South Place, off Moorgate in the heart of the City. Work has now started on the 72,000sq ft new building, which is designed by architects Allies and Morrison with interiors by Conran & Partners. The hotel will contain a number of restaurants and bars when it opens, including a bar and grill on the ground floor and a 7th-floor rooftop eaterie, and will mark D&D's first return to the sector since exiting its investment in London's Great Eastern hotel (now a Hyatt Andaz).

It is also opening an outdoor café at the Royal Exchange this summer and the London Evening Standard reports that the company is planning to develop two floors in the old East India Company warehouse at New Street in London

Gunewardena is also behind D&D's first foray outside London. It has plans to open two restaurants at Trinity Leeds shopping and leisure development, which will launch in spring 2013, comprising a modern French restaurant and a bar and grill serving British food. Occupying 12,000sq ft, both eateries will be designed by Conran & Partners and feature outside terraces.

The chief executive has also stated a desire to expand D&D in South-east Asia, India and the Middle East during the next decade, with 10 restaurants generating turnover of more than £10m. If he gets it right, the group's influence will increase significantly beyond the London heartland that lends the company its name, placing it up with some of the biggest fine-dining players on the international scene. Given Europe's moribund economies and the rapid growth of the middle classes in places such as India and South-east Asia, the strategy looks like an increasingly canny one.

He has adopted some New York service habits, too, scrapping the 12.5% service charge on bills in his London restaurants. Instead, diners leave tips at their discretion, which are shared by the staff.
Looking ahead, Gunewardena reckons there is plenty of scope to expand D&D restaurants. He told the Evening Standard (November 2010): "Even now we have a very small number in relation to the market as a whole. At the high end, there are 400 to 500. Even …with 40, we will still be a small player."

Des Gunewardena's ranking in the 2010 100 >>

Construction work begins on D&D hotel >>

D&D London to launch outdoor cafe at the Royal Exchange >>

D&D London to expand outside of the capital to restaurant launches >>

Revenues rise at restaurant group D&D London >>

D&D London website >>

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