The Show Reopens: Danny Meyer Chats Live on Bringing New York Restaurants Back

The CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group talks about the rebirth of New York dining, hiring woes across the industry and a new restaurant project in Manhattan West

The Show Reopens: Danny Meyer Chats Live on Bringing New York Restaurants Back
Since opening Union Square Cafe in 1985, Meyer has built his hospitality company into a multifaceted culinary giant. (Daniel Krieger)
Jun 14, 2021

Back in September, New York restaurateur Danny Meyer was begging governor Andrew Cuomo to permit 25 percent occupancy across New York City's restaurants. The CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), which includes Best of Award of Excellence winners Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, and Grand Award winner The Modern, had already laid off 90 percent of his labor force and faced more shutdowns due to winter spikes of COVID-19 cases. But as vaccinations rise and cases drop, the hospitality veteran is optimistic about the future of dining in New York. In the latest episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Meyer spoke with news editor Mitch Frank about jumpstarting a devastated industry, promoting diversity in his restaurants and a new project in New York's latest development, Manhattan West.

Although New York has approved 100 percent indoor capacity, Meyer puts an asterisk on that number. Restaurants are still required to place tables six feet apart, and in a city like New York, space is scarce. But Meyer says it is great progress following a very dark year for the industry.

"I can't say enough gratitude for the power of the vaccine and the creators of the vaccine to have jumpstarted the economy again," Meyer said. "We're about halfway there in opening our restaurants."

With eager diners itching to eat at their favorite spots, Meyer asks for patience. In the past year, many talented restaurant workers left the city and took jobs in other industries. While USHG managed to retain most of its chefs and general managers, guests will find that their favorite table, server or dish may not be there. Meyer adds that while most jobs were able to adapt to working remotely, restaurant workers had no choice but to pause.

"You can't Zoom in to do the dishes," Meyer said. "It's going to work itself out, but right now we are shorthanded. It'll be a while until your favorite restaurant feels like your favorite restaurant."

So how does Meyer plan to bring workers back? The answer is being patient. Meyer's hospitality group stayed in contact with current and former employees, and raised $2 million to support struggling workers. "People didn't forget that," Meyer said. He also says now is the best time to join the restaurant industry since people can practically get "almost any job you want."

The pandemic was a big learning experience for the industry, and Meyer realized his team had to address an issue that persisted long before COVID-19: Lack of inclusion.

"Before COVID and George Floyd's murder, we had reckoned that our company was not diverse enough," Meyer admits. "Belonging is the most important thing and it's all well and good to be more diverse, but if you don't beef up a sense of belonging, that's akin to inviting someone who's diverse to a party and ignoring them while the party is going on."

Meyer had set 2025 goals to make his restaurants look like the communities they did business in, and increase employee morale in the dining room. But as Meyer's restaurants come back to life, he won't have to wait until 2025 since they will be rebuilding with this intentionality. "We intend to actually get this work done by the end of this year," Meyer says.

Meyer also unveiled his plan to open a new restaurant called "Ci Siamo" in New York's Manhattan West development. The Italian restaurant, whose name translates to, "We're finally here," has been in the works for three years. Chef Hillary Sterling will head the dining program.

Watch the full episode with Meyer on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator every week. On June 16, senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec will chat with Paso Robles winemaker Jordan Fiorentini. And on June 23, news editor Mitch Frank will talk to Harmon Skurnik of Skurnik Wines.

More Straight Talk

See More

Amar'e Stoudemire Chats Live on Building His Wine Legacy

Oct 1, 2021

Barbara Banke Speaks Out on a Sustainable Wine Industry

Sep 8, 2021

Always Aiming High: DLynn Proctor Chats Live on His Storied Career

Aug 30, 2021

Finding Home Again: Kyle MacLachlan Chats Live About Making Wine Where He Grew Up

Apr 30, 2021

Chasing Burgundy: Kurt Russell Chats Live About His Pinot Noir Project

Apr 26, 2021

News Straight Talk Dining Out New York City

You Might Also Like

SND: Treasury Wine Estates Buys Frank Family Vineyards, Expanding Napa Holdings

SND: Treasury Wine Estates Buys Frank Family Vineyards, Expanding Napa Holdings

The $315 million deal further shifts the Aussie wine giant into premium brands

Nov 18, 2021
Chef Christopher Kostow’s Charter Oak Comes to Cabo

Chef Christopher Kostow’s Charter Oak Comes to Cabo

The Napa restaurant will host a two-night dinner series with wine pairings at a Mexican …

Nov 18, 2021
Can a Glass of Wine Lead to Increased Consciousness?

Can a Glass of Wine Lead to Increased Consciousness?

A team of researchers surveyed wine bar guests and explored how a glass of red wine may …

Nov 16, 2021
Million-Dollar Wine Bottle Helps Boost Carnivale du Vin to a Record-Breaking $3.75 Million for Charity

Million-Dollar Wine Bottle Helps Boost Carnivale du Vin to a Record-Breaking $3.75 Million for Charity

Chef Emeril Lagasse's 17th annual New Orleans event raised its highest total ever, thanks …

Nov 12, 2021
World Wine Crop Drops Dramatically

World Wine Crop Drops Dramatically

Rough years for France, Italy and Spain lead to a third consecutive below-average year, but …

Nov 11, 2021
Instagram Live Chats: View Wine Spectator's Upcoming Schedule

Instagram Live Chats: View Wine Spectator's Upcoming Schedule

Our next two episodes feature Riedel CEO Maximilian Riedel and New York restaurateur …

Nov 22, 2021