Danny Meyer is a New York City restaurateur who serves as the chief executive officer of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). City National Bank CEO Kelly Coffey was thrilled to speak with Danny about his experience with guiding a business through a pandemic and the future of the restaurant industry.
Danny says he spent the first half of his life getting an education about the world of hospitality without realizing it. His father owned a travel business, enabling Danny to develop a diversified appreciation for great food and service at an early age.
Danny Meyer opened his first restaurant in 1985 at the age of 27. His early success cemented his career as a hospitality stalwart for the decades to come. He has been the driving force behind some of New York City's most popular and acclaimed restaurants, including Union Square Café, The Modern and the Gramercy Tavern. He also founded the international casual-dining smash hit Shake Shack, a burger venture that went public in 2015.
Besides having a keen understanding of the restaurant industry, Danny has earned a reputation as a leader. USHG is known for its culture of enlightened hospitality, a philosophy that places employee well-being above all else.
Danny asserts that great hospitality is only possible if a company treats the people expected to provide it with respect. The philosophy has driven the accelerated growth of USHG from a small group of restaurants to a large, diversified and renowned hospitality organization.
Danny's reputation as a leader was put to the test throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, as his restaurants were forced to close their doors and scale back operations. His work to protect his employees and his business started early in the pandemic.
Danny's restaurants were among the first to participate in health screenings for employees, implement contact tracing and provide complimentary sanitary products for patrons. When New York City implemented a mandatory shutdown of indoor dining, Danny's restaurants had already been closed for days — a testament to his dedication to doing what is right for his staff.
For Danny, the key to making the right decisions during difficult times is having the principles required to make them before they happen.
“When you know something is right, it doesn't get less right with more time," Meyer said. “If you're doing it to protect people's health, with each passing day that you don't do it, you just made it more dangerous. So why wait?"
As dining rooms open to patrons again, Danny has remained dedicated to helping New York's economy recover. He is currently serving as chairman of the board of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to assist with the city's economic rebound. His work has already included a homecoming concert for New York City — an event that involved the New York Philharmonic, Santana, Earth, Wind & Fire and other artists.
Danny is currently working on opening Ci Siamo in Manhattan West. Italian for “we have arrived," he hopes that the restaurant's name will be representative of an optimistic future for New York City.
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