Urban Outfitters’ new venture into the pizza business has raised some big questions for the company.
The retailer announced earlier this month that it purchased several restaurants from the Philadelphia-based Vetri Family, including the fast-casual chain Pizzeria Vetri.
Investors appear wary of the acquisition. On the day it was announced, the company’s stock fell 7%.
As an Urban Outfitters customer and pizza-lover, I decided the best way to see how the investment would play out would be to go to the source — an existing restaurant located inside an Urban Outfitters.
In 2014, Space Ninety 8, an Urban Outfitters concept store, opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. On the third floor of the location is the Gorbals, the second restaurant of its name. Ilan Hall, of “Top Chef” fame, opened the first of the Gorbals in Los Angeles in 2009.
The combination of Urban Outfitters and a destination restaurant seems bizarre, whether it be the Gorbals or a Pizzeria Vetri. So, I decided to check it out myself.
I showed up to the Gorbals on a Wednesday at 6:45 p.m. -- half an hour early for my 7:15 p.m. dinner reservation (the restaurant opens at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays). From the outside, the location's connection to Urban Outfitters is downplayed, with a large sign reading 'Space Ninety 8.'
The space is architecturally interesting with a fair amount of reclaimed wood and an industrial feel. The offerings are typical of Urban Outfitter's mix of hipster staples and some strange costumes.
At Space Ninety 8, a traditional Urban Outfitters occupies the first and second floors. The Gorbals is on the third floor and a record store is in the basement.
The first floor also features a solid selection of shoes, which I decided to check out while I waited for my friend to join me for dinner.
Urban Outfitters hopes that bringing restaurants and other kinds of entertainment to its stores will increase customer traffic and get people to stay longer once they enter a store. The strategy worked on me -- I ended up buying a pair of shoes.
With a few minutes left to kill, I decided to venture downstairs to check out the store's record shop that, along with the Gorbals, sets Space Ninety 8 apart from traditional Urban Outfitters locations. Ed Sheeran greeted me on my way down.
While there were a few customers shopping upstairs, the record store was empty except for me and a single employee. I took a few photos, took a peak at the vinyls, and headed back upstairs.
Finally, it was time for dinner. The entrance to the Gorbals is up the stairs from the second floor of Urban Outfitters.
After walking through the bar, my friend and I were seated in the mostly empty dining area. If you could see through the frosted windows, they would look out into the Urban Outfitters, but once you're inside, it's easy to forget the restaurant is located inside of a store.
Further distracting us from the fact that we were inside a clothing store was the open fire located just a few feet from our table, where chefs were preparing food throughout the night.
My friend and I split the avocado, cucumber, and crispy garbanzo as a starter. It was delicious -- a well-seasoned combination of crunchy chickpeas and fresh cucumber and avocado.
In an effort to capture the true nature of the Gorbals, I ordered the octopus. While my photography skills don't do the dish justice (everything on the menu seems to be prepared for Instagram sharing), it was quite good -- certainly not something I could find at most restaurants.
My friend ordered the chicken schnitzel. The schnitzel was a tasty take on fried chicken, but the decadent toasted cream pomme puree stole the show.
The only dessert available at the Gorbals is sticky toffee pudding, with black pepper ice cream. The dish perfectly summed up restaurant's approach to food: combining quirky flavours in a way that seems to be trying a bit too hard, but that works better than I expected. The treat was delicious.
While my meal at the Gorbals was delicious and a much better deal than most three-course dinners featuring octopus in New York City, I'm not sure I'll be back any time soon. Once inside, the restaurant could be anywhere -- but dining there requires travelling through an Urban Outfitters. I'm not someone who requires authenticity in my food, but when I'm paying for an elaborate dinner, I want it to be an experience separate from a shopping trip.
If I did go back to the Gorbals, it would likely be for drinks, as grabbing cocktails and a snack at the bar is more in line with my shopping expectations than a full meal. I do not want to spend $50 on food, in addition to $79 on shoes, every time I visit an Urban Outfitters. Fortunately for Urban, Pizzeria Vetri likely better serves these needs than the Gorbals, as a more casual and inexpensive option, that still has enough culinary credibility to turn shoppers into diners.
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