Grafton Street Bewley’s to reopen early next year

Opening delayed by six months as renovation work expands to first floor

Bewley’s cafe on Grafton Street in Dublin is to reopen in either next February or March, some six months later than the Irish coffee group originally intended.

Bewley's chief executive John Cahill told The Irish Times that the "slight delay" reflected both the "sensitive nature" of the refurbishment work on the historic building and a decision to broaden the scope of the renovation.

Bewley’s closed the cafe in February for a refurbishment that was intended to simplify its offering and focus it on the ground floor of the seven-floor building.

This move was designed to reduce the company's trading losses on Grafton Street to about €750,000, having lost a lengthy legal battle with the landlord, Johnny Ronan's Ickendel Ltd, over the terms of its lease.

The Supreme Court eventually decided in Ickendel’s favour, with the result that the annual rent is now set at just under €1.5 million a year.

Bewley’s believes this to be twice the rent that the cafe, which had about one million customers a year, can sustain, and decided to close for six months to allow for renovations and to allow it to scale back the offering.

However, it has since decided to renovate the first floor of the cafe to be “trading ready” and would consider opening this space if demand driven by the recovery in the Irish economy and strong tourist numbers continues. “Our hope would be to trade in these areas in the fullness of time,” Mr Cahill said.

Accounts just filed by Bewley’s show it made a pre-tax loss of €3.9 million in 2014, compared with a profit of €2.7 million the previous year. This was due to exceptional costs of €5 million relating to an “onerous lease” on its Grafton Street cafe. Turnover rose by 3 per cent €107 million.

Mr Cahill said that the company hopes to have the cafe open in time for St Patrick’s Day next year and the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. “March is a good target, but it may be faster.”

Mr Cahill said the renovation would cost more than €1 million but a final figure wouldn’t be known until certain works had been costed. Work is to begin next month.

Bewley’s accounts also show that it paid €6.9 million to members of the Campbell family that owns the business and senior management through a share redemption scheme. This had the effect of leaving the company with total recognised losses for the year of €9.5 million.