TEDxManhattan Heroes: Danny Meyer

Photography by Melissa Horn

Leading up to TEDxManhattan 2015, we've asked this year's speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. This week's guest is Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group of businesses which include Shake Shack, Union Square Cafe, Blue Smoke and the Modern restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?

Fine Dining Restaurants and Chains: Ever the Twain Shall Meet

Why is this important?

We are at a historic inflection point where two diametrically opposite poles of the restaurant industry are coming closer and closer to resembling and respecting one another. It’s as if Pepsi and Coke; Boehner and Pelosi; or Yankees and Mets fans - were all caught in a mutual hug. Fine dining guys with serious concerns about where our food comes from and how it tastes want to replicate and bring their food to more consumers. And chain operators who want to grow, know they will need to do so in a way that connects with today’s consumer, who doesn’t want to shelve what matters most, just because they want the convenience and cost savings associated with eating at a chain restaurant. For the first time in history, each side respects and needs the other, and there is no going back.

What are you currently passionate about, or what is exciting, at USHG (Union Square Hospitality Group)?

All I think about is becoming a better leader. To do so, I know I’ll have to make sure we keep attracting and growing USHG's leaders, advancing our culture, and deepening our bench of hospitality and culinary talent. I’m incredibly excited about this moment – when we can continue to heighten our game at all of our core restaurants, and to create new ones that have something meaningful and innovative to add to the restaurant world. I feel more privileged than ever to work alongside an immensely talented team, and it’s my responsibility to make it irresistible for hospitality professionals to join USHG. Especially now, with Shake Shack becoming a separate company, it’s an incredible time to hone what we have, and to plant new seeds for tomorrow!

Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else’s?

I’m fascinated by anyone in our industry who is working to make better food – by which I mean more carefully sourced and lovingly prepared – more accessible to more people, by making it quicker, less expensive, and available in more than one location. I’m equally inspired by those who do one restaurant, incredibly well, in a way that ignites a new neighborhood and a fresh way of looking at food. And finally, there’s something quite important about restaurants as institutions. With all the new things happening, it’s comforting to return to an old favorite that just does it right.

How do you think we will change the food system?

Cooks, consumers, journalists, and food producers have been involved in a symbiotic relationship for years – one in which each needs all of the others to keep advancing the agenda for better food. Once you’ve bought the best organic peach of your life at a farmer’s market, tasted the best peach pie in a restaurant, read about the best recipe for grilled peaches in a blog or restaurant review; and been inspired to cook for yourself – the circle is complete. And you will no longer be satisfied with anything less.

What one recipe would you most like to share with the TEDxManhattan community?

I’m most excited to share our simple recipe for achieving a great dining experience – one in which the lines are blurred between whether you’ve gone out, or come home. It’s a simple recipe with just two ingredients: 49 parts performance; and 51 parts hospitality. How good does it taste, and how inviting does it feel?

Which other 2015 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?

This may seem like a copout, but I am genuinely interested in hearing each and every speaker. My sense is that I’ll learn the most when, and from whom I may least be expecting it!

Which past speakers did you find particularly inspiring?

I especially loved hearing from Gary Hirshberg and Mitchell Davis.

Where can more information about your work/business be found?

Best places are our website: www.USHGNYC.com or by following me on Twitter:@dhmeyer.

TEDxManhattan, "Changing the Way We Eat," will take place March 7, 2015, at the TimesCenter in New York City. Interested in joining the day? You can apply to attend, or host or attend a viewing party.