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Earlier this year, the clothing and catering mogul Richard Caring — whose properties include Annabel’s, The Ivy, Le Caprice, Cecconi’s and Soho House — teamed with fellow Brit Keith McNally to open Pulino’s in New York. It now looks as if the bar and pizzeria on the Bowery is just the beginning of the duo’s culinary collaborations. During an interview at Caring’s slick offices in London’s West End, the two talked about the future, McNally’s favorite date spot, and the day they happily shared that finest of British pub cuisine: stale cheese sandwiches and warm beer.
WWD: Richard, would you consider bringing any of Keith’s restaurants to London?
Richard Caring: Several of Keith’s brands would work in London. They’re original; they’re exquisite — and there’s a definite market for them. I might have just persuaded Keith to bring Pulino’s to the U.K. London is all about sites: The toughest thing is finding the right one — but I think I have one. I also want to take Keith to the West Coast of America. I don’t think he’s even been there [laughs]. Pulino’s would be sensational in L.A.
Keith McNally: I’ve always been reluctant to the idea of reproducing places. But you can be pure to the point where it becomes snobbery. With this new place, I think I would reproduce it — in an interesting way.
This story first appeared in the April 28, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: Speaking of transporting restaurants across the Atlantic, tell me about the growing pains at Le Caprice in Manhattan.
R.C.: Cecconi’s is finding its way in L.A., and Caprice is doing the same in New York. It will take us a year to understand the market. But we will find our way. We’re in a hotel that is unionized, so we have to learn to work with the unions. I’m not unhappy with the first five months, and every month that goes by we learn a little bit more. We seem to have a great loyalty of clients. It’s an older clientele. We have a lot of locals, which is positive, but we have to try and mix that with a younger crowd. You’ve got to get downtown to come uptown — which is difficult. Also, we seem to have upset some of the food critics in New York because we don’t recognize them. When you phone 17 times and can’t get a table, you don’t come in with the most positive of mind-sets. We seem to be turning the critics away the whole time.
WWD: While you’re sorting out Le Caprice, what other projects are you working on?
R.C.: We’re trying to do an Ivy hotel next to the Ivy — about 50 to 60 rooms. It’ll take a couple of years. We’ve got 50 rooms at the Dean Street Townhouse [Caring’s latest restaurant-and-rooms concept in London’s Soho], and we’re adding another 20 rooms. We’ve just opened 26 rooms in Shoreditch House [in East London]. We opened Soho House Berlin on Monday. We open Soho House Miami in September.
WWD: What are some of your favorite restaurants in the U.S. and the U.K., and what makes them so special?
R.C.: The River Café. I think we would both agree on that one. When they opened, they were very innovative with their form of cooking. And I like Mr. Chow in Miami. I like the whole ambiance. It’s sizable, but still retains a great buzz.
K.M.: I generally like the restaurants that make the most mistakes. When somebody drops a tray of glasses, I think, ‘Thank God it’s not my problem!’ [laughs]. I like old fashioned. There’s a restaurant called Raoul’s on Prince Street [in New York], and I like it because it’s cozy; it’s comfortable. And I had a lot of success there when I wasn’t married, taking women there.
WWD: Keith, what are your strengths as a restaurateur — aside from making sure nothing crashes to the floor?
K.M.: My strengths lie in hiring good people and seeing through bulls–t. I think I can detect when someone is being phony, and I have a good eye for things. I don’t think I’m much of a businessman, though, and I don’t look too clearly at the bottom line. I tend to think about the product, and make it as good as possible without really working out the finances and seeing if it’s possible to recoup the investment.
WWD: Have you ever spent any downtime together, or is it all business?
K.M.: We once walked 18 miles through Devon. I actually walked from the south of Devon to the north, and then I called Richard, who has a house there. We got up really early, and we walked across Exmoor [National Park, in southwest England] with two of Richard’s 18 dogs. We nearly lost one of the dogs in the fog.
R.C.: For lunch we had two stale cheese sandwiches and shared a warm beer. And then we shared an ice cream with the Labradors, Porgy and Bess.
WWD: What did you talk about for 18 miles?
K.M.: We got on really well. We talked a bit, but one of the nice things is being comfortable with someone when you’re not talking.