Every single day, right outside The Observer’s office, a small miracle occurs. At the door to a place that looks like Arnold’s from Happy Days, a long queue forms. Rain or shine, tourists—and even some New Yorkers—line up to pay $15 for a burger, fries and a milkshake at the Shake Shack. They go on Yelp and Instagram to tell their friends how awesome it all is. And you know what? It kinda is.
For a sizeable portion of American culture, a New York restaurant is supposed to be stuffy, uncomfortable, intimidating—and unapologetic about all three. Plenty of visitors interpret a condescending maître d’, a rude waiter or unresponsive staff as signs that they are receiving the “New York treatment.”
Danny Meyer, a St. Louis native who moved to New York in 1984 and opened the Union Square Café a year later, has led the battle against that attitude. Mr. Meyer’s focus on hospitality—attentive service, attractive and comfortable surroundings, and (of course) good food—has remade the New York dining experience. Union Square Hospitality Group now operates 11 restaurants in New York, several of which have become city institutions.
His restaurants have won New York Times stars, two dozen James Beard Awards and top rankings on Zagat lists, which count three of his restaurants among its top five “most popular”—Union Square Café has been No. 1 nine times. Two of his establishments—Gramercy Tavern and the Modern—have even received a Michelin star; his restaurant Eleven Madison Park, which Union Square Hospitality Group sold to its chef, Daniel Humm, earned an eye-popping three Michelin stars.
The unwavering quality of Mr. Meyer’s restaurants has set the bar high for other restaurateurs looking to set up shop in New York. From Shake Shack to North End Grill, Mr. Meyer has shown New Yorkers—and the world—what it means to have an outstanding eating experience. Without the smirk.