Why the coolest restaurant design company is breaking up

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In just five years, New York-based design firm The MP Shift has built an extraordinarily successful business by anyone’s standards. With a new approach to restaurant design that sparked a trend of bright and airy interiors replicated around the world, The MP Shift’s client list included dozens of renowned hospitality brands (Danny meyerUnion Square Hospitality, Sweetgreen and The Plaza Hotel, among others). The company has also received accolades from the media and industry, including a 2018 James Beard Award for their design of New York-based coffee De Maria and a place on Good appetiteThe 2016 list of the best new restaurant designs for Brooklyn’s Tilda All Day Cafe.

Then in June, the co-founders and friends Amy morris and Anna polonski sent an email announcing that they were dissolving The MP Shift and starting solo businesses. After building a studio that has clearly worked well (to put it mildly), why stop? BOH chatted individually with Morris and Polonsky to find out why they are breaking up, what’s next, and what they think makes a partnership work.

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Longtime friends Morris and Polonsky initially joined forces professionally because they both saw a clear need for hospitality customers, especially chefs, who wanted to holistically translate their vision into every part of the brand. , from the logo and the menu to the dishes and interiors. The duo have developed what they call a “360 approach” to deeply understand a client’s history, needs and goals. The discovery process was followed by close collaboration with the client to create a cohesive visual identity.

It sounds simple, but the two women had worked with agencies that treated every client the same, and they saw that branding and design can’t be one size fits all. “Everyone is going to be different. It might not be drastically different, ”Morris says,“ but even a slight difference means a different approach. We both felt that and came to the partnership with that perspective, which allowed us to build a different process. “

By Maria from New York

Courtesy of The MP Shift

Their partnership grew out of this shared belief, but the reason Morris and Polonsky worked so well together was much more practical: They are both extremely organized and focused, they communicated constantly, and they set clear expectations for each. client and project. “It all sounds very common, but I feel like a lot of the creative people I work with don’t have this,” Polonsky says.

Morris agrees: “Organization and process are often underestimated in creative fields. It actually gives you a lot more room to be creative. If you have a clear process and you are organized, you have so much more room to think. The organization goes hand in hand with open lines of communication, which keep partners on the same page on all facets of the business, although Polonsky notes that a history of friendship can add an layer of complexity to dynamics. “Sometimes that’s a good thing because you might feel more comfortable talking about your personal needs,” she explains. “But it’s harder to keep limits.”

It has helped that the two are deeply committed to their goal of changing the way people think about restaurant designs. “We’ve become more focused on all aspects of the business, from process to design details to customer relationships,” Morris says. “We have thought a lot about our approach, and there has never been a time when we have put the brakes on.”

Like any marriage, you have to be aligned for this to work.

Amy morris

When the co-founders finally stopped to catch their breath earlier this year, they looked back on what they had accomplished and realized they had created an incredible opportunity for themselves. They had built up a solid reputation as creative directors, entrepreneurs and design professionals, and could take what they had built in many different directions.

“When we started to have more in-depth discussions about this,” Morris says. “We realized we had different ideas about where we wanted to go [go next]. Like any marriage, you have to be aligned for this to work. Morris wants to work in fewer cities and go beyond the hospitality industry; Polonsky will remain focused on food, but wants to be “a little more political” and work with more socially aware clients.

Polonsky adds that after five years their personal needs “have changed.” Her husband travels a lot professionally and her family is in Paris, so she needs more flexibility than an agency model could offer her. “It was becoming difficult to be totally indebted to a partner and a team of 15 people,” she says.

Both admit they eagerly await the freedom of having to answer only to themselves, and are both currently launching eponymous solo projects – The Morris Project and Polonsky & Friends – where they will always apply their 360 approach. .

“One of the perks of being alone is that when I have an idea, I can execute it,” says Morris, who is completing three MP Shift projects, including a flagship store outside of Boston for the company. cannabis Theory Wellness. It is an industry that she is keen to disrupt. “There are so many issues with the way interiors are done in the cannabis industry,” she says. “I have a lot of ideas on how to do it better, and I’m really committed to it.”

Clients of The Morris Project include Whole Foods, cohabitation company The Collective (creating brand identities for three restaurants) and a restaurant in the West Village. She is also collaborating with a friend on an artist residency in Mexico City and a creative group from London on a potential hotel in Greece or Italy, and is about to spend a month in Peru researching with food consultants. for a future -confirmed project.

Ending a partnership is like ending a romantic relationship. I wanted to put this behind me and take the time to take it easy.

Anna polonski

Polonsky is also completing a few MP Shift projects, the Flor wine bar in London and a new Sweetgreen in Texas, while slowly taking on new clients. “Ending a partnership is like ending a romantic relationship,” she says. “I wanted to leave that behind, and take the time to take it easy.”

His first clients are a duo of Australian chefs, Jacques Henri and Shaun kelly, who are opening a farm outside Paris that will be like a “blue hill accessible to Stone Barns”, with a permaculture garden, as well as a restaurant and a hotel. She is also working with a group of Latin American farmers on branding a grocery line and a French baker on the creative direction of its expansion into the United States, and she is co-directing a documentary on food and gastrodiplomacy in the Middle East.

“I want to work with clients who care a bit more about their social impact rather than being on social media,” says Polonsky. “I want to go beyond just opening the next Instagrammable restaurant.”


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