It has been closed for 21 months but when it reopens in 2017 the famous Bewley's Oriental Cafe on Grafton Street in Dublin will be bigger and brighter than ever. And profitable, says the Irish-owned coffee company.
This follows a decision by Bewley's to expand its multi-million euro refurbishment programme for the listed property, and a willingness by planners at Dublin City Council to allow it open up the interior.
The cafe closed in February 2015 with Bewley’s originally intending a limited six-month refurbishment that would have closed the upper floors and halved the number of seats to 180.
Instead, it is getting a complete refurbishment that will allow the cafe to seat 500 customers at any one time. Each floor will be open under the new plan, including the theatre.
Bewley's also plans to reopen the side entrance on Johnson's Court, and a number of open fires will be brought back into use. The prized Harry Clarke windows are also set to be carefully restored along with the historic facade.
"We're doing a top-to-toe job in terms of the property," Bewley's chief executive John Cahill told The Irish Times. "It has been more complex but the planning and conservation authorities have been extremely supportive and co-operative and more things have come on the table for us to look at."
The changes include removing a wall that faced the front door and a mezzanine level at the back of the cafe. “You’ll be able to see back to the Harry Clarke windows [from the front door],” Mr Cahill said. “It was a building that was very compartmentalised . . . this will be more navigable, more customised as a cafe.”
Irish hotel executive Stephen Meehan has been hired as general manager. Some 29 original banquettes have been restored, while many of the old marble-topped tables are being refurbished for the new cafe.
Bewley's was losing €1.2 million a year when it closed, with the company failing in a legal battle with Johnny Ronan's Ickendel Ltd to have its near €1.5 million-a-year rent reduced to a market rate.
Mr Cahill expects the cafe to be profitable when it reopens due to its enlarged size, improved consumer confidence and record tourist numbers in the city.
“The investment will be higher but we would see a very strong payback on this investment,” he said. “We would expect that we can move the operation into profit. That’s the ambition.”
The cafe will have a phased opening next year. Its core offering will be around teas and coffees, bakery and patisserie, and soups, salads and sandwiches.
“We’ve created something magnificent for the building,” Mr Cahill said. “There’s an awful lot to do but we have the time to get it right.”