5 Minutes With The Owner Of While We Were Young

While We Were Young is the restaurant your Instagram feed (and your appetite) have been yearning for. Brightly lit with pastel-colors throughout, the new West Village restaurant has been bringing in a crowd of models, beautiful couples and bloggers since opening this past spring.

The intimate space is decorated with a meandering marble countertop, pale pink velvet banquettes, large open windows (perfect for people watching), and of course, a neon sign that reads “We were together, forget the rest.” The bar is garnished with multi-colored rose petals, with golden vials and bottles holding their house-made cocktail bitters and simple syrups.

While We Were Young features a menu comprised of healthy contemporary American cuisine, with hot items like fried chicken atop green kale waffles drizzled with house-made hot sauce – “as savory as it is snappable.”

The cocktails, equally impressive and beautiful, feature cheeky names like “Too Good For You” (tequila, kale, cucumber, agave and lime) and “Texts from Last Night” (pink peppercorn-infused mescal, grapefruit and maraschino). When it comes time to ask for the check, it arrives alongside gummy bears in custom While We Were Young packaging – not your average butter mint. The restaurant’s owners are also working on their own line of rosé, in case you needed an extra dash of pink.

There’s a photo opportunity from the moment you walk into the door through to the time you leave. And it’s no surprise, as owner Bradford Dunigan understands both aesthetic and food are what make a good restaurant, as learned by his background working in the fashion industry and his father’s restaurants in South Florida. The restaurant design is inspired by his hometown in Fort Lauderdale and beaches in the Bahamas, hence the wave-shaped bar, shades of pink, surfboard cutouts, and star-studded “night sky” floors.

We caught up with the Floridian restaurant owner to chat about his criteria for a good restaurant, and the importance of a laidback vibe.

You were working in fashion before, what made you decide to open up a restaurant?

I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole life, as my father was a chef and owned restaurants in South Florida. I used to live right across the street [from While We Were Young] for four years and this space became available. It didn’t have a liquor license, it didn’t have gas, it didn’t have AC, it didn’t have ventilation, so no one wanted it and the price just kept going lower and lower and I was like, “Well, this is perfect!” It was a big risk and I got some good investors and they took the risk with me. I think clubs are dead and people go to restaurants to have a good time, so that’s the vibe—good healthy food, fun drinks, good music.

Let’s talk about the menu. It’s simple, but it has a little something for everyone.

It’s just simple and clean, there’s no gimmicks, all the ingredients are organic and sourced from local places. I think when you talk to most people who own restaurants or are chefs and they love food – I just eat to live, to be perfectly honest. Everyone eats with their phone first, so presentation is definitely important to us. I want people to come to our restaurant, eat and not feel gross after they’re done eating – no matter what they eat.

What experience do you want people to have here?

Fun, that’s it. I want them to have good food, a good time and not stress. Our waiters, we always tell them to have fun with the guests. New York is one big ball of stress. I think if you can just come to the restaurant for a little bit, listen to good music and have a good cocktail and some good food, we’re going out job.

What are your criteria for a good restaurant?

I go to a restaurant for atmosphere first. For people in my age range, that’s what you go out for, not just to get a good meal or a good drink, but to for a good time and to see people as well.

What’s your motto for While We Were Young?

It’s a feeling, a feeling of youthfulness, not taking stuff too seriously. I think the DNA of your restaurant also adapts to your customers. My original plan was this is going to be a great date spot, it’s intimate, it’s small, it plays good music, but that hasn’t been the case, it’s literally girls night out.

Words by Tahirah Hairston