Hello, Danny!

By Corby Kummer
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It is with great excitement, and equal relief, that I herald the long-anticipated arrival of Danny Meyer, one of the people I've most wanted to hear from on the Food Channel. Danny—I call him Danny, you call him Danny, friendliness but not overfamiliarity is part of his founding philosophy—is, of course, among the country's most successful restaurateurs. More important than successful, he's a model for how others want to run their businesses.

Of all kinds. Much as Isadore Sharp, a Canadian who had grown up in the motor-inn business, redefined hotel hospitality with his standards of service at the Four Seasons chain, Danny, who grew up traveling across Europe with his "flamboyant, entrepreneurial" and "irrepressibly optimistic" travel agent and hotelier father, built on his family experience to redefine restaurant hospitality. Both the informal but meticulous care of Union Square Cafe and its simple, culture-mixing, comfortable menu, which was long overseen by Michael Romano—one of the most gifted and curious chefs I know—have influenced restaurants around the country, and the Zagats (prized contributors to the Food Channel) might as well have a whole category of Danny Meyer restaurants, seeing how high they rank year after year in the New York City survey.

We'll have not just Danny, grand master and team leader as always, but three key members of Union Square Hospitality Group writing regularly about life in their restaurants.

Danny is also a very good writer, as his 2006 Setting the Table reaffirmed (I'd long been a fan of his newsletters). A memoir and guide to his own philosophy, Setting the Table reveals his careful approach to expansion, one that has mystified onlookers who wonder why he's stuck so close to home: his father went bankrupt twice, mostly because of overexpansion. The unusual sense of decency and humility that first made Union Square Cafe stand out in a city not renowned for those qualities: his "magical" summer camp made people write skits showing a sense of ethics (!). And his father's blind spots in hiring solid collaborators made him especially careful to build, and keep, a team of rock-solid managers—chefs, cooks, servers, and wine directors who have fanned out and, thank goodness, landed in Boston, where I live. (I regularly direct friends and family to Pigalle, in Boston, for occasions that matter because Kerri Foley, the wife and co-manager of the restaurant with her husband, Marc Orfaly, trained at Gramercy Tavern.)

I've met some of my most-admired people in the food business at Danny's restaurants, and so of course I've been hounding Danny since Day One to contribute to the Food Channel. I couldn't be more pleased that, a mere 14 months after we launched—gestation time for, say, one of his restaurants—we'll have not just Danny, grand master and team leader as always, but three key members of Union Square Hospitality Group writing regularly about life in their restaurants. I'll let Danny, who typically shines the spotlight on his collaborators, introduce them—but I'll also leave you with some of his own writing, from Setting the Table, about the night he opened the doors of his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, in October of 1985:

It was a numbing, surreal moment, and an emotionally loaded night for me. I broke into tears as soon as the doors flew open, realizing that this moment marked the culmination of a lot of professional research as well as a lifetime of personal development. Seventy-five people showed up, all of them friends or family members. There was something bittersweet in the air as well. My dad was not present. He apparently had gone on a business trip. Were my tears in part about his not being there? Or were they because I now knew that I didn't need him to be there? In any case, this was now my moment to achieve something on my own.

Achieve he did. I can't wait to hear and enjoy the voices of the collaborators who've helped him do it.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/08/hello-danny/60896/