When he’s not cheering for the Cardinals, the team he loved growing up in St. Louis, Danny Meyer – CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group – is a Mets fan. During our conversation for a story that appears in the August issue of Successful Meetings Magazine, his voice was hoarse from the previous night’s game at Citi Field where he operates an area in left-center field called “Taste of the City.” There are outposts of his restaurants Blue Smoke and Shake Shack here as well as two new concepts: El Verano Taqueria, which features fresh tacos, and Box Frites, which is all about fresh-cut Belgian fries with dipping sauces.
These eateries join his impressive list of establishments: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, and The Modern, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5 at the Museum of Modern Art, Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel as well as Union Square Events.
In a similar vein to his arrangement with Citi Field, Meyer also offers a unique culinary experience at historic Saratoga Race Course and was recently named exclusive caterer for The Whitney Museum of American Art.
A preferred caterer for the Museum of Modern Art, Meyer had to build an additional kitchen elsewhere. Originally named Hudson Yards Catering for the emerging neighborhood in which he opened his new commissary, Meyer says he has applied the strategy of enlightened hospitality to this business while trying to add something fresh to the experience of off-premises catering.
Although Meyer loved the name Hudson Yards Catering – as the facility overlooks the Hudson River in the West Twenties – he was persuaded to change it to Union Square Events by colleagues and investors who insisted that in the world of events you are selling security. No one knew who was behind Hudson Yards Catering but many know the impressive restaurants that are part of the Union Square Hospitality Group.
The company recently celebrated its new identity with an event for 200 planners in its catering kitchen. The event showcased the different styles of food and types of events that Union Square Events does- everything from a modern interpretation of lobster rolls (miniature versions served with pipettes of drawn butter), to a whole hog with BBQ sides, to Mexican street food courtesy of an El Verano table.
Also, the guests had an opportunity to sample upscale food in a relaxed setting, mingling not only with fellow guests but also with the chefs who prepared it. This epitomizes the fun, informal setting that makes Union Square Events parties so memorable, says Meyer
Meyer, revered as a restaurateur, is now trying on another role: management guru. Hospitality Quotient, or HQ, is an education and consulting business that will teach companies across all industries how to improve their customer service.
The idea for the business stemmed from his best-selling book Setting the Table, The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, in which he describes how the corporate culture of his company, Union Square Hospitality Group, created a brand of service that others want to emulate.
After the release of the book in 2006 Meyer became popular as a corporate speaker. He took a “breather” from this newfound career last year. “It was such a challenging business year that I wanted to focus as much of my time as possible on my own company,” he explains.
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 sowing the seeds for his future passion for food and wine, and a successful career in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
He worked for his father as a tour guide in Rome during college.
“I would have a group of 20 tourists a week. I had them from the moment they got off the airplane cranky and jet-lagged until we had traveled all over Italy together,” he reminisces. “It was important for me to figure out who the crankiest person was on day one and turn them into the happiest person by the end of the trip.”
This concept of hospitality has become the core of his success.