After creating and operating some of New York's most loved restaurants over the past 25 years (beginning with the opening of Union Square Cafe in 1985), I am frequently asked about the recipe to our company's success. The answer has always remained unequivocally the same: our restaurants are the product of amazing people we've been fortunate enough to call colleagues!
Few things give me greater joy than walking into one of our restaurants and experiencing that same feeling our guests tell me about.
For years, even before opening our second restaurant, Gramercy Tavern, our guests at Union Square Cafe had been telling us that above all else, it was the special feeling they had when dining with us that kept them coming back again and again. It was through this knowledge and understanding that our culture of enlightened hospitality really took shape, though it had been in place for so many years without ever being named.
While memorable cuisine and spot-on service are incredibly important to our success, it is the care for others and genuine hospitality that mark the core of our business philosophy. Union Square Hospitality Group brings together an outstanding team of human beings who are passionate about what they do and who derive great pleasure from the act of bringing happiness to others. Few things give me greater joy than walking into one of our restaurants and experiencing that same feeling our guests tell me about. And to watch members of our family grow and flourish over the years—both within and outside our company—is a source of ongoing pride.
I am constantly amazed at the passion, care, thoughtfulness, and intelligence displayed by our team on a continual basis, at every level—from chefs and general managers, to wine and service directors, cooks, bartenders, porters, hosts and reservationists. I am fortunate enough to learn from them daily. So when approached with the opportunity to contribute to Corby Kummer's brilliant Atlantic Food Channel, who better to do so than my gifted and trusted colleagues? Let me introduce three you'll be hearing from over the next months:
Michael Romano—Over the past 23 years, I have enjoyed the unique pleasure and honor of working with one of the country's most talented and pioneering chefs, Michael Romano. Michael joined the company as executive chef of Union Square Cafe, ultimately becoming a partner in the restaurant and our entire organization. In addition to creating a new kind of eatery that blended excellent food and gracious hospitality in a casual setting (yes, this was revolutionary at the time!), Michael has helped Union Square Cafe earn its place as one of the city's most popular restaurants year after year in Zagat, in addition to winning several James Beard Foundation Awards for the restaurant and for himself. He has mentored scores of cooks and chefs who have gone on to become some of the most well-known and respected in our industry. Today, Michael is our director of culinary development at USHG, collaborating with every new restaurant we open and project we launch—and playing a direct hand in Union Square Events, our catering and sports and entertainment events company, as well as very closely consulting with Union Square Tokyo. Did I mention Michael speaks six languages, is an aficionado of both the opera and ballet, not to mention that he boasts a deep collection of Japanese knives second to only his stable of fedoras? He's a renaissance man if ever there was one.
Mark Maynard-Parisi—Mark began his career with Union Square Hospitality Group as a reservationist at Union Square Cafe, rising through the ranks to his eventual role as General Manager. In 2001, Mark left the fine-dining world for a cause he felt was a greater mission: to bring authentic real pit barbecue to New York City. In 2002, Mark opened our beloved barbecue joint and sister jazz club—Blue Smoke/Jazz Standard—as Managing Partner, and with that, pioneered the concept of urban barbecue. Along with his chef/partner Kenny Callaghan, Mark helped to create the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, which has become one of the most popular culinary events in the nation. A true community leader, Mark is the co-founder of two philanthropic initiatives that have each had real impact: Union Square Hospitality Group's relationship with Jacob Perlow Hospice at Beth Israel (our team cooks and delivers meals to hospice patients and their families on a weekly basis), and Jazz Standard's Jazz for Kids program, which introduces NYC schoolchildren to the jazz art form and supports our resident ensemble, the Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra, which is composed of some of the city's most talented student musicians. In addition, Mark serves on the board of directors for both the Flatiron Business Improvement District and Streets International, a non-profit organization whose mission is to transition children from poverty to careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Belinda Chang—One of the country's most formidable and engaging experts in the world of wine, we are extremely honored to have Belinda as our wine director at The Modern. Thanks to Belinda, The Modern has become one of New York's top destinations for wine lovers, be it a glass of Alsatian Riesling in the Bar Room or a bottle of Santa Barbara Pinot Noir or Côte-Rôtie in our dining room overlooking the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Belinda is proof that that wine can be fun, accessible and one of life's great pleasures. Her knowledge, passion, and gift for storytelling are endless and infectious!