On my recent trip to New York, a real treat was visiting some of the restaurants and bars by AvroKO for Belle magazine.
New Yorkers are a fussy bunch. With the city's extensive mix of long-established dining institutions and famed hole-in-the-wall haunts, the market is incredibly competitive. And yet, as with any industry, there's always room for a good idea, and AvroKO, a multidisciplinary hospitality design firm, has no shortage of those. Established in 2001 by Adam Farmerie, Greg Bradshaw, William Harris and Kristina O'Neal, AvroKO is one of those unusual hybrids dreamed up by ambitious "kids looking to try on some new ideas together", as Bradshaw describes the company's accidental inception. "There wasn't a formal plan."
Awarded countless design and hospitality accolades and with staff of close to 50 in offices in New York City, Bangkok and Napa, California, the AvroKO formula of knowing just what people want out of a dining experience ("to be happy," says O'Neal simply) shares similarities with Justin Hemmes' Merivale, the restaurant group dominating Sydney's food scene.
Though where Merivale works within the bounds of its own restaurants, the four partners of AvroKO have conceived, developed and designed numerous hospitality venues and retail concepts, most of them in New York City. Managing everything from graphic and menu design to furniture and lighting, architecture and interiors, the group has worked with clients as diverse as Starwood Hotels, Estee Lauder and Marc Jacobs. Additionally, they own and operate several of the restaurants and bars they have created: Public, The Daily, Saxon + Parole (pictured at top) and The Thomas.
Owning and operating their own restaurants provides the partners with superior insight into the issues that occur within the industry. "Being on both sides of the industry is a huge business," says Bradshaw. "It's hard to imagine hiring a hospitality design firm that hasn't owned a [restaurant]... it would be impossible to be as sensitive as you need to be about evolving client needs."
What makes this business so successful? "We talk a lot about creative ideas in our firm, but understand the other 99 per cent, which is truly and successfully implementing those ideas to creation," explains O'Neal. "Whatever the product is, it should be useful and financially stable. This may seem self-evident but not to most novice creatives." Adds Farmerie: "There hasn't been a restaurant design that we haven't been willing to tear apart and re-do, whether for a client re-skinning or one of our own projects." It's this constant evolution and exploration of new boundaries within the industry that sets AvroKO ventures apart and, with the constant change that defines New York - "Every year brings a new crop of eclectic ideas, so the changes happen in what feels like real time, and they're constant," says Farmerie - it stands to reason that the company has come to define hospitality design in the city.
With projects as broad as a rustic Spanish tapas restaurant, an Asian-fusion bistro and an Uzbekistani supper club, the lack of similarities between the various AvroKO projects is what ties them together. "We try no to overload our plate with too many projects of a similar family, both for our own creative interests and our clients' success," explains Harris. "This keeps it exciting," adds O'Neal.