The Power of Hospitality
- CEO of Union Square Hospital¬ity Group, overseeing a dozen restaurants including Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke
- Founder of Union Square Café, voted Zagat Survey’s “Most Popu¬lar Restaurant” in New York City for an unprecedented seven years
- Author of the New York Times best-seller Setting the Table
- Active public speaker on topics such as branding and creating the ultimate customer experience
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Daniel ("Danny") Meyer is the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, and The Modern, Cafe 2, Terrace 5 at the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art, and Hudson Yards Catering.
Danny Meyer grew up in a family that relished great food, cooking, get-togethers, travel, and hospitality. Thanks to his father’s travel business, he spent much of his childhood eating, traveling to near and far-off places, and sewing the seeds for his future passion for food, wine, and a successful career in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Danny worked for his father as a tour guide in Rome during college, and then returned to the Eternal City to study international politics. He minored in the study of trattorias, spending at least as much time at the table as he did in the classroom. After graduating from Trinity College with a degree in Political Science, Danny landed in Chicago and took a job as Cook County Field Director for John Anderson’s 1980 independent US Presidential campaign. Pursuing his true passions for food and wine, Danny later gained his first restaurant experience in 1984 as an assistant manager at Pesca, an Italian seafood restaurant in the Flatiron District of New York City. He then returned to Europe to study cooking as a culinary stagière in both Italy and Bordeaux, France.
In 1985, Danny launched Union Square Cafe, pioneering a new breed of American eatery, pairing imaginative food and wine with caring hospitality, comfortable surroundings, and outstanding value. A critical success from the outset, Union Square Cafe has twice garnered The New York Times’ coveted three-star rating and has been voted Zagat Survey’s “Most Popular Restaurant” in New York City for an unprecedented seven years. In addition to redefining the casual, fine dining restaurant, the restaurant is widely noted as having sparked the dramatic resurgence of the Union Square neighborhood over the past 20 years.
In 1994, Danny opened Gramercy Tavern with chef/partner Tom Colicchio, offering refined American cuisine and warm hospitality in an historic landmark building. The restaurant was awarded three stars in The New York Times, and was voted Zagat Survey’s “Most Popular Restaurant” in New York City in 2003, 2005, and 2006.
In late 1998, Danny welcomed guests to yet two more restaurants, Eleven Madison Park and Tabla. With the opening of these restaurants, Danny also officially formed Union Square Hospitality Group. Eleven Madison Park features Chef Danny Humm’s pure, market-driven cuisine rooted in Provence. Among numerous accolades, the restaurant received the 2004 James Beard Award for Best Service in America. EMP’s ground-breaking neighbor, Tabla, serves Chef Floyd Cardoz’ exquisite New Indian Cuisine. Tabla earned three stars from The New York Times and has been Top Indian Restaurant in NYC in the Zagat Survey, Citysearch and Time Out NY. In addition, both Eleven Madison Park and Tabla are among Zagat’s Top 20 Most Popular List.
In 2002, Union Square Hospitality Group opened Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard, offering New York mouthwatering real pit barbecue and world class live jazz. The restaurant and jazz club were named “Best Barbecue” and “Best Jazz Club” respectively in 2003 by Citysearch.com. Blue Smoke led the list of New York Magazine’s “Where to Eat Now 2004.”
In 2004, Danny incorporated more of his childhood interests—frozen custard, hot dogs, and art—into Union Square Hospitality Group. USHG launched “Shake Shack,” a food kiosk in Madison Square Park, serving Chicago-style hot dogs, burgers, frozen custard, wine and beer. Following in the footsteps of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla, Shake Shack is the latest development in the renaissance of historic Madison Square Park.
On a larger scale, USHG was honored to be selected by the Museum of Modern Art to create and operate the dining facilities at the newly renovated and expanded MoMA. The facilities include a fine dining restaurant, The Modern, two cafes, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5, catering, and even the food service for MoMA’s staff. In its opening year, The Modern won Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation.
USHG’s most recent project includes the launch of a new off-premise, fine dining catering business called Hudson Yards Catering (HYC). Hudson Yards Catering intends to bring a fresh culinary and hospitality point-of-view to the catering field.
An active national leader in the fight against hunger, Danny has long served on the boards of Share Our Strength and City Harvest. He is equally active in civic affairs, serving as Co-Chair of the Union Square Partnership and on the executive committees of NYC & Co and the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
Danny is active as a public speaker and educator, and has been a presenter at Food & Wine’s Aspen Classic, Saveur’s Texas Hill Country Festival, Culinary Institute of America, Cornell University, National Restaurant Association, and others. He has also been featured in countless TV, radio, and print media. Danny has been profiled by People Magazine, Town & Country, Gourmet, CNN, and CBS Sunday Morning.
Danny and his restaurants and chefs have earned an unprecedented 24 James Beard Awards, including the first-ever Outstanding Restaurateur, Outstanding Restaurant of the Year, Best Chef, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Wine Service, Humanitarian of the Year, Who’s Who of Food & Beverage, and Best Restaurant Graphic Design.
Danny co-authored the Union Square Cafe Cookbook with his partner, Chef Michael Romano. The book earned the IACP Julia Child Award for the best new cookbook by a first-time author and was followed up with the highly-acclaimed Second Helpings from Union Square Cafe. He also wrote The New York Times’ best-selling book, Setting the Table, which examines the power of hospitality in restaurants, business, and life. In 2009, Meyer's restaurants released a cocktail cookbook called Mix Shake Stir.
Enlightened Hospitality. Under Danny Meyer’s leadership, USHG is renowned not only for its acclaimed restaurants but also for its distinctive and celebrated culture of Enlightened Hospitality. This guiding principle of prioritizing employees first and foremost has driven and shaped USHG’s ongoing evolution from a small group of restaurants into a multi-faceted hospitality organization. Businesses that prioritize their employee experience see greater returns for all of their stakeholders, from customer experience to community enrichment and beyond.
Service Vs. Hospitality. Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Danny addresses the critical difference between service—the technical delivery of a product—and hospitality—the way the interaction makes you feel—drawing on examples from the restaurant industry to illustrate the powerful impact that hospitality can have on employee engagement, customer loyalty, and sales. And in any organization, hiring the right people, training them for excellence, and giving them room to grow is of the utmost importance. Danny shares his philosophy of the 51%er, a framework for hiring employees who lead with the emotional intelligence that underlies great hospitality.
Innovation and Leadership—The Hospitality Included Case Study. Central to Danny’s business philosophy is the question: “Whoever wrote the rule?” Union Square Hospitality Group’s innovative spirit has taken the company to new frontiers that transcend the restaurant industry. Danny shares stories from his entrepreneurial roots and case studies from throughout his career (including Hospitality Included, a recent initiative to eliminate tipping) to illuminate the power of risk-taking and the value of a mistake well handled.
My audience of senior level private equity investors, CEOs and investment bankers really connected with Danny's talk - his style is so genuine, thoughtful and engaging one would be hard pressed not to be drawn into what he is saying. He spent a fair amount of time with us in advance of his talk trying to understand the issues that would be relevant and important to our audience and working to draw parallels between his successes/challenges and their interests. I dare say he hit it out of the park! He honed in on the central ideas and issues that resonated with our group - going to work energized and excited to win every day; striving for excellence in what you do at every turn; creating a collaborative and high performing corporate culture; building an organization that drives great returns, but not by focusing on investors, but rather on servant leadership. This last piece was something very different for our audience but really resonated. He stayed after and talked to as many people were interested and he and they genuinely had a great time - he gets a very top recommendation for a business audience, and probably any audience for that matter.