Overall ranking: 17
Restaurateur ranking: 6
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. Turnover in the year ended 2009 was down 5% to £68.2m, with underlying profit 19% lower at £6.5m.
Des Gunewardena - Career history
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.
Des Gunewardena - What we think
There were those who doubted whether the Conran concept could work without the Conran factor, but eight openings since Gunewardena and Loewi assumed full control of the renamed group’s destiny suggest that those concerns were wide of the mark.
With D&D's Moorgate hotel due in 2012, the herald of a move into boutique hotels for the group, Gunewardena has his next challenge stretching before him.
On 10 November 2009 D&D concluded agreements with Frogmore to develop and operate an 80-bedroom £50m luxury boutique hotel at South Place, off Moorgate in the heart of the City. The 72,000sq ft new building is to be designed by architects Allies and Morrison with interiors by Conran & Partners. The hotel will contain a number of restaurants and bars when it opens in 2012, 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).
The chief executive has also stated a desire to expand D&D in the South-east Asia region, 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.
Des Gunewardena - Further information