Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and an accomplished New York City restaurateur, said that investing in neighborhoods overlooked or undiscovered by others is one of his primary strategies and inspirations.
He used café-sparse Battery Park City in Manhattan as an example; his group will open three eateries there in 2012: a Shake Shack, a Blue Smoke, and the newbie North End Grill. When Union Square Cafe opened in 1985 and Gramercy Tavern in 1995, whose addresses are now chic, both their neighborhoods were low-rent.
"It’s fun to use restaurants as a way to plug a battery into a beautiful flashlight to really get the (neighborhood) to brighten up," he said.
Meyer spoke about his 26-year career as a Manhattan restaurant owner during a talk with Curbed.com founder and President Lockhart Steele (former managing editor at Gawker Media) at this year’s Real Estate Connect New York City.
Meyer’s restaurant life started with Union Square Café in 1985, which he still owns, and he now runs the Shake Shack empire: a collection of 14 burger joints in the New York City area; Gramercy Tavern; the barbecue franchise Blue Smoke; and the new North End Grill.
In the beginning, said Meyer, he couldn’t imagine running more than one restaurant. "People wouldn’t take you seriously," he said.
Now, with technology like the Internet and its protégés, Twitter and Foursquare, which Meyer is an investor in, you can be a restaurateur on a whole other level.
"One of the biggest things that’s changed is that mothers and fathers no longer look at their kids as failures for going into the restaurant business," he said half-jokingly, of the difference between then, 1985, and now.
Steele asked Meyer how he maintains a balance while being connected, seemingly all day long, via Twitter and the other trappings of the modern digital, ever-connected era. Meyer said that the connection is an outgrowth of his passion for what has become his life work. "I love people. I love sharing. I love food and wine," he said.
"Twitter gives me the opportunity to be with more people than I could being in any one place," he said.