Smith & Wollensky opens in London

Michael Jones caught up with Nathan Evans, operations director at Smith & Wollensky London, as the brand prepares to open its first restaurant outside the US

Tell us about the venture in London. Why is this exciting?

Smith & Wollensky will open its very first restaurant outside of the United States at the Adelphi Building, 1-11 John Adam Street on the south side of the Strand, opposite the RSA and a stone’s throw from Charing Cross and the Savoy Hotel. The restaurant will open to the public in June 2015.

The Adelphi Building on John Adam Street is an iconic office block built in the 1920s in the Art Deco style and Martin Brudnizki’s stunning design has been driven by both the sensitivities required by the property and the increased expectation from the London market.

As a result, many of the fixtures and fittings have been deliberately incorporated to be sympathetic to the building. Geometric patterns and the use of marble and glass combine with Verdigris globe light fittings to create glamorous, comfortable spaces that are reminiscent of the golden age of the cocktail.

Explain some of the design detail

White cotton linen, silver Sheffield cutlery, Schott Zwiesel glassware and deep leather banquet seats create the perfect environment to linger over a 24oz Rib of Beef on the bone and a rewarding glass of Californian Cabernet or a great Bordeaux.

Two full-service bars and dining areas over two floors with three private dining rooms (one with a third, private bar) make up the configuration and covers stand at 300.

The brand is so well known not only in the US but all over the world with many of the restaurants appearing in Hollywood movies that the buzz has been tremendous – both sides of the ‘pond’.

It leads to high expectations and a huge responsibility for the London team to deliver the definitive S&W experience. I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity and can’t wait to throw open the doors.

What are you offering to the market that is different?

Quality runs through everything Smith & Wollensky does and that starts with the beef. All of the signature cuts are imported USDA and graded prime.

This is crucial as Prime USDA beef accounts for less than 2% of all US beef produced and is known for its exceptional marbling and tender texture. The beef is dry-aged to intensify the flavour for a minimum of 28 days and then butchered on the premises by our master butcher. This is a significant step up from our London competitors. Some of whom are using USDA beef but not dry-aged and some are using unclassified beef from Nebraska or other non-USDA cuts.

Smith & Wollensky London is not just a steakhouse. Seafood, fish, poultry & vegetarian dishes are all represented and of course there are the unforgettable side orders – creamed spinach, hash browns and great chips all on the generous side. The wine lists in the States are award winning and extensive with over 500 bins and London will be no exception. While American wine is clearly a centre of excellence, much more European wines make the list, particularly by the glass. This will provide both familiarity and value for the London customer.

Why will it succeed?

The London restaurant market is set to grow by 2.5% over the next three years, which is good news for quality operators. How they take advantage of that growth is crucial.

Smith & Wollensky’s primary focus on putting people at the heart of its proposition, both its customers and its employees, is what, I believe, will make the difference.

I still encounter a culture of ‘no’ in London restaurants. Restrictions on menu choices for larger groups, dictated by the kitchen, table turn times not only reiterated at the time of booking but on arrival and again at the table, all present huge hurdles to the guest experience and usually irritate customers.

Smith & Wollensky has always had a very firm focus on ‘yes’.

Gone are the days when restaurants can dictate what customers do and how much they spend – the market is simply too competitive.

Equally, creating an environment where employees enjoy coming to work, earn good wages and share in the success of the business is fundamental if you are to create a culture of great hospitality.

When these principals are combined with high quality products and the rigorous training and testing of staff you begin to deliver outstanding levels of customer service and repeat trade, which I believe is a good measure of success. Get these things right and profits will follow.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in this competitive market?

The biggest challenge facing any new restaurant, particularly in London, is to recruit great people. All the operators in our section of the market are fundamentally competing for the same candidates.

What sets some companies apart is their attitude to employment.

In the USA, waiting and bartending are respected professions and people change employers less frequently. Much of this has to do with earnings and the tipping culture that exists in America, but it also has a lot to do with the opportunities that exist to better yourself.

It may come as a surprise but the current president of Smith and Wollensky in the US – Michael Feighery – started as a butcher’s assistant in New York over thirty years ago!

The chance for those with talent to become the managers of the future runs deep in the organisation and two of their current GMs in the States were servers when they began.

In short we hope to overcome the challenges facing the business during the recruitment phase by offering wages, benefits and opportunities that are significantly better than our competitors.

Why is Smith & Wollensky a special brand? What’s its USP?

I think the New York Times said it best when they wrote of Smith & Wollensky simply, “A steakhouse to end all arguments.” The people in the restaurants stand out. There is a genuine, warm, welcoming hospitality that runs through the veins of Smith & Wollensky. It isn’t the cynical ‘have a nice day culture’ us Brits like to mock, it is heartfelt and honest.

The best beef, blockbuster wine list and perfectly made cocktails are all delivered by friendly and professional staff, in stylish surroundings.

How does the brand view concerns such as local provenance and sustainability? Why are they important?

Smith & Wollensky in the UK has had to evolve for the London and wider European Market through the use of locally sourced ingredients – indigenous shellfish and fish from day boats on coastal waters of Britain, free-range poultry and fresh seasonal vegetables.

We’ve introduced a fabulous cheeseboard for London, which is not something currently available at our sister restaurants in the US, with some excellent cheeses from artisan makers in the British Isles.

We’ve also adopted many green principals, including the use of more induction cooking, to reduce energy use to the recycling of all cardboard, glass and food which has been assisted greatly through a close working relationship with Blackstone, our landlord at the Adelphi.

Not only are customers far more interested about where their food comes from and how it has been produced, many are now keen to know that you are an ethically responsible business.

Michael Jones


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