Off the Cuff: Danny Meyer
When locals hear the name Danny Meyer, most automatically think Shake Shack. Lucky for us, the St. Louis native and Burroughs grad has graced the city now with two locations of the iconic restaurant. But the lauded burger joint barely touches on his dynasty. He is nationally known and recognized for his company, Union Square Hospitality Group, which he founded in 1985 in New York City and is currently CEO. The restaurant group of more than 20 establishments has impressive accolades, and Meyer has quite the resume himself. Among them: being named to the 2015 TIME 100 Most Influential People list and landing a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list for his book, Setting the Table. For a place that allows only the formidable and truly talented to reign in the food scene, Meyer has a top spot in NYC. He shares a casual conversation about his style, favorite things and what remains on his wish list.
What’s your signature style?
Right now, it’s a shirt and jeans. And it doesn’t matter if the jeans have a hole in them because you can’t see them on a Zoom call anyway!
What I wear hanging out on the weekends:
I make sure when I get out of bed, I put on my gym shorts and gym shoes; that way, I know I’m going to get out and run or take a hike. When it gets to be Saturday night, I’ll still make it feel like Saturday night. I’ll put on a slightly nicer shirt and take out a nice bottle of wine.
If we get back to an abridged version of our normal lives, what is your go-to outfit for an event or appearance?
If I can, a sport coat or suit with an open shirt. If I have to, I wear a tie, but I don’t like to. If you invite me to a black-tie event, that is not my favorite.
What wouldn’t you be caught dead in?
Probably pants that are too short for me with white socks. I don’t like that look.
Favorite place to shop?
I don’t like shopping that much. I have a couple of people who come to me so I don’t have to go into the store. I can try on a bunch of stuff or they have my measurements and I just look at fabrics.
If you weren’t a restaurateur, you’d want to be what?
I’d want to be you. You’ve got a great job. I just love sports so much, and you get to know the athletes and have a rapport with the fans. You get to follow your passion. And it keeps you young; it taps into something you loved as a kid.
It’s funny you say that. You work around young people. Doesn’t that keep you youthful?
Totally. It also helps that we’ve got four kids in their 20s. Just in this last seven weeks of quarantine, I’ve learned so much from my kids, about their outlook on life and the kinds of things that get them interested and excited.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
A few years after I went into the restaurant business, my grandfather heard me complaining about a bad review we got for Union Square Cafe right off the bat. He said, “I don’t know why you chose to go into such a public-facing business, but you did, and as long as you did that, you have to understand people will say a whole lot of really good things about you and a whole lot of really bad things. Remember that you’re never quite as good as all of the good things they say, and you’re never quite as bad as the bad things. Just remember who you are, stick to your own compass and let that be your guide.”
Three qualities that got you to where you are today?
Self-awareness, humility and perseverance
What is your favorite perk of the job?
It’s the biggest cliché, but it’s the people. Everyone who is in the restaurant business is a people person. I get to meet so many interesting individuals, whether they are working for us, our guests or people we buy our products from.
When you come back to St. Louis, what are your favorite dining spots?
I love the restaurants in the new Tower Grove area. Louie. I’m excited to try Billie|Jean next time. I love anything Gerard Craft does. And the restaurant character that makes me smile every time I see him is Qui Tran, who is behind Nudo House and Mai Lee. He’s got a spirit for the city unlike any other chef I’ve met. Oh, and you have to go to Balkan Treat Box. If we had that in NYC, you wouldn’t be able to get in. The food is so good.
Drink of choice these days?
Wine. I’m gonna go to Italy. I think I’ve failed at finding a bad Brunello di Montalcino; almost every one puts a smile on my face.
Favorite activity in St. Louis other than seeing family and friends?
It’s going to restaurants. I just love eating. I think the spirit in St. Louis is unbelievable. It’s a city that is underappreciated by certainly people on the East Coast. The food scene has become so exciting.
Anything great you’ve read or watched lately?
We have watched a lot of interesting TV. My wife and I sadly completed Homeland. I’m going to miss that now that we’re done. We just started watching the new season of Billions and also watched Little Fires Everywhere, which was fantastic. Last night we saw a film on HBO called Fat Education. And we caught a really fun one the other night that we hadn’t seen in forever! Music Man.
Favorite place to travel?
Italy. I’m boring that way, but I’m always happy there.
Beach or mountains?
Do I have to pick? I want both.
You can’t live without:
… a corkscrew.
What’s left on the bucket list?
So much. If it’s travel, I’d say India, Southeast Asia and New Zealand. If it’s just experiencing life, I hope one day to be a grandfather. I’m 62, and that’s a club I’d like to belong to at some point.