Des Gunewardena

Des Gunewardena

Former D&D London CEO Des Gunewardena is gearing up to launch his next venture in the sector, with a number of landmark venues set to open in London and Manchester, MCA can reveal.

The high-profile restaurant executive, who was one half of D&D with former partner David Loewi, left the LDC-backed group in September 2022.

He is now working on five “fairly advanced” projects, one in the City of London, three in the West End, and one in Manchester.

Following a capital-light strategy with project finance, the landmark projects are mostly part of bigger developments, with Gunewardena working directly with individual landlords and bankers.

He expects to formally announce the first project in spring when it is legally confirmed.

The sites are due to follow a similar style to the venues he built at D&D London, with large 10,000+ sq ft bar-restaurant sites, premium food and drink, and experiential service styles and concepts.

Gunewardena created D&D with Loewi following a partial management buy-out of Conran Restaurants in 2006, with LDC acquiring the business and backing the pair in 2013.

Gunewardena declined to comment on the circumstances of his exit, but MCA understands it was over a difference in strategy, with the bullish CEO preferring to continue expanding, while more cautious LDC preferred to shut marginal sites in preparation for its own delayed exit.

A £100m sale was being sought for the business at the end of last year, but due to uncertainty in the market, this process was put on hold.

D&D recently confirmed the closure of four sites, understood to be marginal and generating a very small proportion of overall group revenue, with the company saying it would continue to review its portfolio.

Gunewardena remains a significant shareholder and remains fully supportive of his former business.

He also remains a non-executive director of Franco Manco operator Fulham Shore, having gone to school with chairman David Page.

On his next venture, he told MCA: “I’ve eaten in a lot of restaurants lately that are just about the food, while at our end of the market operators are focussing not just on food but the overall going out experience.

“It’s what we’ve always been about at D&D, creating restaurants which give people memorable experiences on top of great food and drink.”

The venues will offer new concepts, with Gunewardena keen to explore cuisines of South Asia, Indochina and Japan. He is also looking at an Italian concept, in addition to European/British/French, which is what D&D is best known for.

“There will be a broader range of food than you might traditionally have seen at D&D,” he said.

As well as restaurants, he is looking at a potential private members club in Soho.

“I do think venues where you’re creating an exciting experience is absolutely where the market is,” he said.

“I want to do things were people say, wow, that’s different, it’s fun, it’s busy, it’s got a great atmosphere. That’s really what I’m focused on.”

With his City background, Gunewardena has direct relationships with private equity groups and individual investors.

“I may bring investors into individual projects,” he said. “But after more than 15 years of having private equity partners, I quite like the idea of having control over my new vehicle.”

As well as the landmark projects, Gunewardena plans to make personal investments in talented restaurateurs.

“These are smaller mainly chef-led businesses that would be outside the group,” he said.

The new vehicle has no management team at the moment, meaning it will be confined to the UK for stage one.

However, in stage two Gunewardena wants to do something in the US, starting with New York, where D&D operated successfully for 20 years.

“I’m looking at the US the whole time,” he said. “At D&D I felt long-term the US was a huge potential growth area, and I still feel the same.”