Meet the duo behind some of New York’s most beautiful restaurants

14 Jun 2017

Having a great idea is one thing, but how do you bring it life? That’s where MP Shift comes in. After noticing there was no agency who could help a brand from concept to execution in the hospitality industry, Amy Morris and Anna Polonsky decided to launch a concept, design and branding studio. Their area of speciality: hospitality and lifestyle – particularly restaurants. It hit the sweet spot with clients including Condé Nast, MasterCard, S.Pellegrino, LVMH and Google, using their services. Their work is renown for its standout designs and unforgettable experiences in the food world. How do they do it? We met with Amy and Anna to get the lowdown.

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©Teddy Wolff

Tell us about how MP Shift came about?

Anna: We’ve known each other for ten years and have both worked with lifestyle brands in different capacities. Amy was doing marketing consulting for brands like Etsy, eBay and Virgin while I was expanding the Paris-based brand, Le Fooding in the US. Two and half years ago, we both decided we wanted to start doing our own thing. We realized that a big problem in the hospitality industry was that there was no holistic agency who offered everything from A to Z. We thought, here’s an opportunity to create something relevant. Some were skeptical at first, but we do more and more business like this, from helping them create the concept, graphics, interiors to launch strategy.

What's the story behind the name?

Anna: No breaking news here. M is for Morris and P is for Polonsky. In regards to “shift,” we didn’t want to use “studio” or “collective,” you know all the hipster words. So we thought “shift” was a good alternative. It’s the time window in hospitality, in the restaurant. It also about pushing boundaries and shifting perspective. One thing we focus on is not having a signature style. It’s really brand-driven which is where the holistic approach comes in.

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Neither of you grew up in New York, what was it that made you want to base your business here?

Amy: Growing up, both of us always wanted to live in New York. It was just a matter of getting here. It was always a place where we wanted to start a business. I mean, New York is the epicenter of inspiration.

Anna: When it comes to hospitality, it is one of the best markets in the world. There is this culture of going out more than ever, more than anywhere else and there is also the money to do things. So we have the means to do more in New York although we are working on projects in Europe now.

I noticed that you’re launching shops in London and Paris soon. How did that come to play?

Anna: It’s two things. First of all, I’m French, I’m Parisian. Amy and her husband lived in London for a while so they have some connections to Europe as well. So emotionally speaking and inspiration wise, it’s important for us to be in Europe, even though it’s not as strong of a market when it comes to hospitality.

We realized that a lot of the design process can be done remotely, so why not do it all over the world? Europe is still such a fresh market, and there is so much room to develop and do more there.

In London, we're designing the restaurant for one of London's most popular young chefs, Niall Davidson (St John & Chiltern's Firehouse vet), near Shoreditch. And we're about to start to work on graphics for a new bakery concept by Noma vets.

In Paris, we're doing graphics and concept strategy for a variety of clients (from the soon-to-open Hotel Bienvenue to a new fine dining restaurant from a French Laundry alum and more).

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Have you noticed a difference in the design needs across different cities and countries?

Amy: If you go to each of those markets, the trends in food are slightly different. We very much work with the restaurateur and make sure it fits with the location.

When we first started in New York, everything was dark and barn wood, similar to a ‘post-industrial grandpa’s house’ vibe. So when we first launched, we pushed to design lighter, brighter, more colorful spaces. We continued to go in that direction and people started to know us as the designers making that change.

What has been your favorite project to work on?

Amy: I think De Maria has been really exciting for us because it’s in Nolita which is in the heart of it all. The area definitely has a lot of meaning to us, but we also got to work with very creative staff who gave us a lot of freedom and were really open to our ideas. The more a client is open to our ideas, the more creative we can go.

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What influence do you think food has had on the other industries such as fashion?

Anna: We could talk about this trend for a whole week. Tying food into different industries (specifically with fashion) is something we think about a lot since we not only focus on design aspects with our clients, but the marketing and activations as well.

Everyone can have an opinion on food, everyone has a story with food so as it becomes more accessible through media - the strategies have changed, the criteria has changed. Food has become an accessory to fashion brands.

I mean what is considered a good restaurant these days, is not just a michelin star anymore. Now everyone is able to take part in the conversation. So there’s nothing better for a retailer than to be able to have that connection with its consumers. You can tap into a story that everyone can be a part of it, which is pretty amazing.

What is your favorite restaurant in New York right now?

Anna: One that we love from a design and experience perspective is Karasu in Brooklyn. It’s a Japanese speakeasy behind Walter Foods in Fort Greene. It could seem a little boring and cliche when I say “speakeasy,” but it’s done brilliantly. Amazing cocktails, nice little bites, the steak is actually fantastic. It’s exactly the type of concept we like to create. It’s so holistically thought out, that I just want to go back constantly.

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What do you think the next big trends are in the food industry?

In terms of design, we are seeing a lot of terrazzo being used. We just put a terrazzo facade in at the Flatiron restaurant, Verde, and we think it’s the only one in the city, we haven’t been able to find another one at least!

Also, tambour which is also known as “half-round”. It’s the type of wood you see on the bar at De Maria. We’re starting to see that being used in a lot of different ways; in large formats, sideways, painted in different colors. However, whenever we start to see that happening with a material, we start to move away from that. We don’t want to be doing what everyone else is doing.

The real question for us, is what’s the next big trend, that’s what we’re always thinking about. One thing we’re seeing that no one is doing right now is using vinyl floors in interesting ways. We also always bring in a lot of imperfection into our projects which you don’t typically see in a lot of designs. We feel it makes the space more inviting that way.

What project’s exciting you most at the moment?

We are working on two really exciting projects right now. One is a restaurant in London for Niall Davidson. The other is a restaurant in Houston, Texas that will have a community feel, indoor and outdoor space and will be the most beautiful thing Houston has seen. It’s called Vibrant and will be in the hip neighborhood, Montrose.

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