27 October 2016
Merritt Croker says there will be a new Dan Ryan's on Hong Kong Island by the end of this year. Photo: EJ Insight
Merritt Croker says there will be a new Dan Ryan's on Hong Kong Island by the end of this year. Photo: EJ Insight

Dan Ryan’s final day in Pacific Place will serve up memories

If you haven’t heard of Dan Ryan’s, customers will tell you it’s where they met their husbands or wives, took their families to Sunday brunch or caught a bite to eat before or after a movie.

The memories are flooding back to Merritt Croker, a co-founder of the Chicago-themed flagship restaurant in Pacific Place, as he counts down its final days.

“Yes, we are sad,” Croker said, but adding the restaurant is not parting ways with Swire Properties which owns Pacific Place.

Dan Ryan’s will close its doors in the swanky Admiralty shopping mall for the last time in April, leaving behind a 27-year history of family dining, business lunches and kid-friendly service that once included pencils and table-sized coloring paper on which to draw, doodle or doze off.

“The closure has nothing to do with the financial situation of Dan Ryan’s,” Croker said.

“Over the past year, this branch has made US$7 million in sales. We paid millions in rent and served more than 250,000 customers.”

The restaurant is moving to a new location because Pacific Place is undergoing brand repositioning and Dan Ryan’s is not an ideal fit.

“We respect their decision,” Croker said.

Windy City International Ltd., which operates Dan Ryan’s, is in talks with Swire Properties on a new location, probably Tai Koo Shing.

Croker said some other shopping malls have approached the company on a possible partnership.

He sees the move as an opportunity to reinvigorate the Dan Ryan’s name and incorporate new design ideas.

“The new Dan Ryan’s will have a modern design,” said Windy City chief operating officer Jeremy Lieberman.

“This is an opportunity for us to move forward and be relevant to what is happening today. We are looking forward to our reopening.”

Croker co-founded Windy City with Chicagoan Paul Christensen and a group of investors in 1989.

In addition to the Pacific Place flagship, the group operates two other Dan Ryan’s restaurants in Hong Kong — in Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong and in Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui.

It owns Amaroni’s Italian-American restaurant in Festival Walk.

The company has weathered the worst of the economy including the Asian Financial crisis in 1998, SARS in 2003 and the street protests in 2014.

It’s reflecting mostly on the good times now that it’s closing a chapter in its history.

“Some guests have told us they met their spouses here. Some said they brought their kids here for Sunday brunch,” Croker said.

“They said ‘this can’t be happening’ or ‘this is unfair’. We appreciate their loyalty.”

Still, there will be no closing party, Lieberman said.

Instead, last-day customers will be left to form or experience their own Dan Ryan’s memories.

“We can all look forward to our opening party after the relocation,” he said.

Croker said customers won’t be disappointed with the new flagship restaurant.

Tough time

In 2014, at the height of the protests which shut down much of Admiralty, Dan Ryan’s suffered a sharp decline in sales.

“Parents stopped bringing their children to the restaurant,” chief financial officer Amanda Yip said.

The restaurant made up for the shortfall by ramping up beverage sales.

“When times are good, people drink. When times are bad, they drink even more,” Croker said.

New capital

Christensen is semi-retired and has returned to Chicago where he has gone into real estate investment.

Croker said Windy City, which is looking to expand in the Greater China region in the next three to five years, is seeking fresh investment.

The company may go public or put itself up for sale to the right party, he said.

Croker said Dan Ryan’s will continue to offer “affordable luxury” and “casual dining” rather than compete in the fine dining or fast food markets, which he thinks are riskier and more volatile.

“Some restaurant operators spend a lot of money on chefs and decorations but it’s the staff who give you return on investment,” he said.

“Each of the servers is an ambassador of our business. If you treat your staff well, they will treat your customers well.”

[Chinese version中文版]

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Since its establishment in 1989, Dan Ryan’s has gone through highs and lows with the Hong Kong economy.

The restaurant has a classic Chicago-inspired theme, food and music.

Jeremy Lieberman, Merritt Croker and Amanda Yip (from left) thank staff for the success of Dan Ryan’s.

Some signature decorations will be moved to the new restaurant.

Countless children have marveled at the overhead toy trains.

Hong Kong’s catering sector has become increasingly competitive in the past few decades. Dan Ryan’s, however, will not compete in the fine dining and fast food markets.

Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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