D&D London on bringing ‘vibes’ to New York’s Columbus Circle

By Sophie Witts

- Last updated on GMT

D&D London on bringing ‘vibes’ to New York’s Columbus Circle

Related tags: New york, Restaurant, International trade

The original Bluebird restaurant opened more than 20 years ago in Chelsea, now the D&D concept has taken flight to New York with a 100-cover site in the Time Warner building above Columbus Circle. Chairman and CEO Des Gunewardena explains the logic.

Why did you decide to take Bluebird overseas?
With all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit about 18 months ago we as a board decided we should increase the geographical spread of our restaurants so all our eggs weren’t in one basket. About 80% of our business is in London, and 90% in the UK. We have had restaurants overseas for a years but recently our expansion has been focused in the UK. The developers Related Companies went to Bluebird Chelsea for dinner and suggested it would do well in the Time Warner building. There are some high end restaurants there like [Thomas Keller’s] Per Se and Masa, but nothing with this price point and vibe.

How does opening in New York differ to London?
It costs a lot more to build restaurants and open restaurants in New York. We’re spending 40-50% more than we would have done to create the same site in London. So I hope we’re going to do 50% more turnover – we’ll see! The biggest challenge now we’ve opened is going to be evolving what we do pretty successfully in the UK into something that also works in New York. There are a lot of similarities between the eating out markets, but New York is a different city. The popular dishes, drinks and service culture aren’t the same. We’re going to have to work and maybe change things because New York customers are very demanding. If they don’t like something they don’t go back.

"We’re spending 40-50% more than we would have done to create the same site in London. So I hope we’re going to do 50% more turnover"

How have you approached staffing?
We’ve got a mix of New York and London staff in Bluebird. Laura Dove, who’s our US operations director and general manager of the new restaurant, actually ran Bluebird in London and has also worked in the Time Warner building. In theory we’ve got it covered but New York is a tough city. 

What’s on the menu?
In broad terms it’s the same menu, but we’re continuing to tweak it. We’ve put on slightly more British dishes like beef wellington, which we don’t offer in London, as it’s a point of difference for us. British food historically hasn’t got a great rap in New York. Twenty years ago that was probably deserved but today London has changed a lot. So the menu is fairly eclectic and represents what Londoners eat today, rather than just shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash. There’s also things like prawn tempura and monkfish curry. The feedback from the soft opening has been positive and they all like the beef wellington. But I’m not sure we’d risk doing a purely British menu.

Bluebird has also opened a café in London’s White City, what are you future plans for the brand?
We’re looking to see if that concept of a small, 100-cover café works. It’s going pretty well but we’re still trying to decide exactly the direction of that. Once we’re happy with it we will look at opening other Bluebird Cafes, and if those work we may try and build that as a casual concept and have a number in London and maybe outside London too.

And you’ve got an upcoming New York restaurant in the Hudson Yards development
We’ve taken an 11,000sq ft space to develop what will effectively be two new concepts, an independent café space and a more distinct formal dining room and a relaxed grill restaurant. It will again be British but different to Bluebird, which is more a brasserie, with perhaps a slightly lower price point. We were approached open in Hudson Yards and thought it was an amazing scheme, when it’s completed it’s going to be bigger than Canary Wharf. It’s a combination of offices, retail, an entertainment centre and restaurants, and the developers were very keen on us opening a restaurant there.

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