Danny Meyer, Culinary Closer

 

So quality control is an issue.

As long as they don’t shift the cooks, I think we’ll be in good shape. Historically, in a stadium, there’s no cooking being done.

 

It’s just hot dogs on heated rollers.

Yeah, gimme a bun, pick up a hot dog—that’s the level of cooking! There’s definitely a lot of skill involved in making a Shack burger or making a shake. We’re doing all of our cooking for El Verano taqueria right there at the ballpark.

 

Do you have any sort of estimate of the number of burgers you expect to sell this summer?

No, but I was meeting with Michael Romano last night. He’s the culinary dean of our whole company at this point. He said he has never seen volumes like this. He’s working on all the sauces for Box Frites, all the dipping sauces. He’s got a bacon sauce, a chipotle tomato sauce, a mayonnaise-based sauce, a green olive and pepperoncini sauce, blue cheese sauce. He said he had cooked something like 400 pounds of bacon just to go into one of the dipping sauces at Box Frites. He said he came home and he had to take a bath and a shower, just to get the bacon smell off of him. So I have no idea what the numbers are going to be.

 

There are some other big-name restaurant spaces that have come available recently and it seems like every time these places come up, your name comes up.

Which is great! It’s free publicity. Whether or not we’re doing it, people think we are.

 

I think you have stated that you are not interested in taking over the Rainbow Room.

Correct.

 

Because you don’t like ballroom dancing?

That’s a fact! [laughs] Everything that we’ve ever done is something that I actually love doing—art, jazz, barbecue, baseball … If I had a dollar for every time somebody said we’re doing Union Square Park. People have been so certain, first, that I was the anonymous donor to the park—I’m not! So, that I could do [the restaurant]—I’m not! As long as I don’t get written about for doing a ponzi scheme, I guess I’m fine with it.

 

You have such a foothold here, you probably want to see something happen with the restaurant in Union Square Park.

I definitely want to see something happen. And I want to see something happen that accomplishes three things: I want it to use the greenmarket produce. I think it’s insane to have the Northeast’s top greenmarket and not have a restaurant that’s completely connected and uses the products of those farmers. Number two is, as someone who crosses the park 10 times a day, I don’t care what kind of restaurant is there, it’s dramatically safer when you have people using the park. So, for that reason, I’d love to see something there. And, thirdly, where you used to have two pathetic little playgrounds, one on either end, and then a sunken restaurant in the front, there’s going to be a huge playground and on the other side, it’s going to be a beautiful piazza. I definitely want to see it happen and I hope it happens in a way similar to Madison Square Park where a significant number of the revenues from the concession go back into that park. Shake Shack has paid, since its inception [in 2004], over $800,000.

 

To the park conservancy?

Into the conservancy. More has gone to the city. But public-private partnerships, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your politics, they exist; and they exist because, if the city had enough money to put into its own parks, for beauty, for safety, for programming, it would.

 

Are you interested in running that restaurant?

N-O! We have enough stuff around here.

 

You have sent people to the Tavern on the Green proposer meetings—are you going to make a bid on that place?

I’m not sure. I think it’s an incredibly complicated project. I think that the key question that anyone has to ask themselves is, ‘How passionate are you about your idea?’ We have an idea that I think would be amazing for the city that I could get passionate about. That’s number one. But number two is, relative to what it takes to turn it into that idea, and now, with respect to how many years there are on the term of the lease, can you, in fact, make it happen?

 

What do you think of the Reverend Billy Talen’s campaign for mayor on the Green Party ticket? (Mr. Talen is an outspoken critic of the park’s redevelopment.)

I find it fascinating that he’s found me to be a …

 

Lightning rod?

Yeah, I’ve never met him before.

 

Maybe you should debate him?
I don’t have anything to debate. But I would love to know, from people concerned about not having enough space for kids, how the north end development, which is quadrupling the amount of space they have and improving it by eons in terms of its quality—I mean, I don’t get their argument.

I bet there was a point in the 1500s in Rome when they were building Piazza Nevona, with Borromini’s church and Bernini’s fountain, when somebody probably said, ‘We should never have restaurants around this piazza because it will ruin the tranquility of the piazza.’ I don’t think that’s a bad thing but I also don’t think it’s a bad thing that there’s a kind of civilized nightlife that happens when somebody has a glass of wine on the park or a tartufo, or whatever it happens to be. I don’t think food is an entirely bad thing.

cshott@observer.com