Danny Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, The Modern, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5 (at the Museum of Modern Art), Maialino, Untitled (at the Whitney Museum of American Art), North End Grill, Union Square Events, and Hospitality Quotient, a learning business. Each USHG restaurant and business is lovingly crafted and distinctive, and each strives to distinguish itself with warm hospitality and consistent excellence.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Danny Meyer grew up in a family that relished great food, cooking, get-togethers, travel and hospitality. Thanks to his father’s travel business, he spent much of his childhood eating, visiting near and far-off places, and sowing the seeds for his future passion for food, wine, and a successful career in the hospitality industry.
Danny worked for his father as a tour guide in Rome during college, and then returned to the Eternal City to study international politics. He minored in the study of trattorias, spending at least as much time at the table as he did in the classroom. After graduating from Trinity College with a degree in Political Science, Danny landed in Chicago and took a job as Cook County Field Director for John Anderson’s 1980 independent presidential campaign. Pursuing his true passions for food and wine, Danny later gained his first restaurant experience in 1984 as an assistant manager at Pesca, an Italian seafood restaurant in the Flatiron District of New York City. He then returned to Europe to study cooking as a culinary stagière in both Italy and Bordeaux.
In 1985, at age 27, Danny launched Union Square Cafe, pioneering a new breed of American eatery pairing imaginative food and wine with caring hospitality, comfortable surroundings and outstanding value. A critical success from the outset, Union Square Cafe has been voted Zagat Survey’s Most Popular Restaurant in New York City an unprecedented nine times. In addition to redefining the casual fine dining restaurant, the restaurant is widely noted as having sparked the dramatic resurgence of the Union Square neighborhood over the past twenty years.
In 1994, Danny opened Gramercy Tavern, offering refined American cuisine and warm hospitality in an historic landmark building. The restaurant has twice earned three stars in The New York Times, and was voted Zagat Survey’s Most Popular Restaurant in New York City six times in the last nine years, most recently in 2011. In 2008, the James Beard Foundation honored Gramercy Tavern with its Outstanding Restaurant Award, and in 2012, Chef Mike Anthony received the award for “Best Chef: NYC.”
In late 1998, Danny welcomed guests to yet two more restaurants, Eleven Madison Park and Tabla, each situated in a stunning art deco building that overlooks 150-year-old Madison Square Park. With the opening of these restaurants, Danny also officially formed Union Square Hospitality Group.
Eleven Madison Park embodies an urbane sophistication serving modern, sophisticated French cuisine that emphasizes purity, simplicity and seasonal flavors and ingredients. The restaurant has earned four stars in The New York Times and the designation of Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux. In 2010 Chef Daniel Humm was awarded the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York City. In 2011 Eleven Madison Park received the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant and placed 24th on the S. Pellegrino list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In a bold move, after Eleven Madison Park received three stars from Michelin in 2011, Union Square Hospitality Group sold the restaurant to Executive Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara.
Eleven Madison Park’s neighbor, Tabla, presented Chef Floyd Cardoz’s groundbreaking New Indian Cuisine, American cooking spiced with the sensual flavors of India. Tabla earned three stars from The New York Times and has been named a Top Indian Restaurant by the Zagat Survey, Citysearch and Time Out New York. After 12 full and fulfilling years, Tabla closed its doors and served its last meal at the Madison Square Park address in December of 2010. While the location on Madison Avenue has closed, guests can still enjoy Floyd Cardoz’s cuisine at North End Grill in Battery Park City, through a partnership with Fresh Direct, and at events through USHG’s catering company, Union Square Events.
In spring 2002, Union Square Hospitality Group opened Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard, offering mouthwatering real pit barbecue and world class live jazz. The restaurant and jazz club were named Best Barbecue and Best Jazz Club respectively in 2003 by Citysearch.com. Blue Smoke led the list of New York Magazine’s Where to Eat Now 2004 and has been named Best Barbecue by Time Out New York. In December 2011, a second location of Blue Smoke opened in Battery Park City.
In the summer of 2004, USHG launched Shake Shack, a food kiosk in Madison Square Park, serving Chicago-style hot dogs, burgers, frozen custard and more- based on Danny’s childhood love of these Midwestern treats. A second location of Shake Shack opened on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in October 2008, marking the first time in USHG’s history that it had expanded one of its businesses. Since then, new locations have opened in Manhattan’s Theater District, the Upper East Side, Battery Park City, and Downtown Brooklyn, along with Miami Beach, Citi Field, Saratoga Race Course, Washington D.C., and Westport, CT.
On a larger scale, in 2004, USHG was honored to be selected by the Museum of Modern Art to create and operate the dining facilities at the newly renovated and expanded MoMA. The facilities include a fine dining restaurant, The Modern, two cafes, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5, catering, and even the food service for MoMA’s staff. The Modern is in the top 20 of the Zagat Survey’s Most Popular Restaurant list, and it has received three stars from The New York Times. In 2009, its Chef, Gabriel Kreuther, received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: NYC, followed in 2011 by the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service.
In December 2005, USHG launched a fine dining, full-service catering and sports and entertainment business, Union Square Events (formerly Hudson Yards). Offering a fresh approach to catering and events, Union Square Events provides guests the excellent cuisine and warm hospitality they have come to expect from USHG restaurants. It also brings its services to entertainment venues, large-scale event production and renowned sports facilities across the nation, including the Mets stadium Citi Field and the Washington Nationals ballpark where USE operates two original concepts – El Verano Taquería and Box Frites. Union Square Events also runs Public Fare, a café at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, as well as the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, which brings together the nation’s top pitmasters and attracts 125,000 attendees to Madison Square Park over a weekend each June.
In November 2009, USHG opened Maialino, a Roman-style trattoria in the Gramercy Park Hotel serving lovingly prepared Italian cooking from Executive Chef Nick Anderer. The menu draws its inspiration from the classic dishes found throughout Rome and features fresh, seasonal ingredients. Thoughtfully designed by the Rockwell Group, Maialino captures the warmth and comfort of a traditional Roman trattoria, re-imagined for present-day New York City. In the 2011 Zagat Survey, the restaurant was named the Top Newcomer in NYC.
In February 2010, USHG launched Hospitality Quotient, a learning business focused on helping individuals and companies to understand and apply the power of hospitality in their businesses. With interactive classes and training programs, HQ allows USHG to work with business leaders who want to enrich the employee and customer experiences.
In March of 2011, the company opened Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Untitled features updates on coffee shop classics all made with carefully sourced, local ingredients, from Chef Chris Bradley. The restaurant is open to museum visitors and non-museum guests for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, and for family-style dinner Thursday through Sunday.
An active national leader in the fight against hunger, Danny has long served on the boards of Share Our Strength and City Harvest. He is equally active in civic affairs, having served as the Co-Chair of the Union Square Partnership and on the executive committees of NYC & Co and the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
Danny is active as a public speaker and educator, and has been a presenter at Food & Wine’s Aspen Classic, Saveur’s Texas Hill Country Festival, Culinary Institute of America, Cornell University, National Restaurant Association, and others. He has also been featured in countless TV, radio and print media. Danny has been profiled by The New York Times Magazine, People Magazine, Town & Country, Gourmet, CNN and CBS Sunday Morning.
Danny, his restaurants and chefs have earned an unprecedented 25 James Beard Awards, including: the first-ever Outstanding Restaurateur; Outstanding Restaurant of the Year; Best Chef; Outstanding Service; Outstanding Wine Service; Humanitarian of the Year; Who’s Who of Food & Beverage; Best New Restaurant; Best Restaurant Design; and Best Graphic Design.
Danny co-authored The Union Square Cafe Cookbook (HarperCollins, 1994) with his partner, Chef Michael Romano. The book earned the IACP Julia Child Award for the best new cookbook by a first-time author, and was followed up with the highly acclaimed Second Helpings from Union Square Cafe (HarperCollins, 2001). Danny also authored the New York Times bestseller Setting the Table (HarperCollins, 2006), which examines the power of hospitality in restaurants, business, and life. In May 2009, Danny’s restaurants released a cocktail cookbook, Mix Shake Stir (Little, Brown) featuring 140 recipes, along with tips, anecdotes and stunning photography. In 2013, USHG released Family Table, a compilation of family meal recipes from USHG restaurants written by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner, with a foreword by Danny.
Danny lives in New York with his wife, Audrey, and their four children.
Read our Q&A with Danny on the Ecocentric blog.