Bewley's to close its landmark cafes

 

Lifestyle changes, escalating business costs and the smoking ban were among the reasons cited for yesterday's decision to close Bewley's Oriental Cafés before the end of the year.

The Campbell Bewley's Group said the historic outlets on Dublin's Grafton Street and Westmoreland Street had grown out-of-step with modern tastes despite a series of costly face-lifts in recent years.

"Over the past decade, rapid economic growth and increasingly sophisticated lifestyles have led to a proliferation of much smaller and more readily accessible cafés catering for time-pressed consumers. The "coffee- to-go" phenomenon has also grown at an exceptional rate.

"Given the modern consumer's preference for smaller, more intimate venues, the very large format and major operational costs of these cafés make them very difficult to run in modern times."

Not only the end of an era for Dubliners, the decision also marks the end of an era for Bewley's which began as a coffee and tea importation business in 1835.

The first Oriental Café opened in Georges Street in 1894, while the Grafton Street outlet opened in 1927, complete with its much-loved stained glass windows designed by Harry Clarke - a luxury that set the Bewley family back nearly £60,000 then.

From 12 in its heyday, the chain dwindled to just the two directly-owned cafés in Dublin and three franchised cafes elsewhere in Ireland: one at Dublin Airport and one each in the Waterstones book stores in Dublin and Belfast.

The group said it would "make every endeavour" to facilitate a developer who wished to retain a slimmed-down Bewley's café at either premises. However, no offers have yet been made.

The company stressed that it had commissioned a redesign of the premises earlier this year, but "it became clear in recent months that the total costs of this development would negate any potential increase in revenues as a café operation".

"Alternative viability options were explored which would enable Bewley's to maintain a café presence, such as a partnership with successful restaurant and/or licensed trade operators. Although this has not been totally ruled out, it is now considered unlikely."

Since 1996, the company has spent €12 million refurbishing and upgrading both establishments. But as both buildings are listed premises, renovations have proved problematic and costly.

The company also received a knock-back earlier this year when Dublin City Council refused it permission to erect outdoor seating in response to the smoking ban.

The company said it would now seek to dispose of its leasehold interest in Grafton Street and would develop its self-owned Westmoreland Street premises "in order to realise its full commercial potential."