“Someone sent me a box of hot dogs,” Danny Meyer stated, strolling into Union Square Café, his oldest restaurant, clutching a big cardboard bundle. He positioned the parcel on the bar, eliminated his masks, and opened an accompanying letter, from the proprietor of a string of hot-dog joints in Utah. The letter thanked Meyer for writing “Setting the Table,” his 2006 best-seller in regards to the energy of risktaking, eye contact, and pressed tablecloths. Meyer smiled.
The earlier day, New York City had formally begun reopening, which meant that eating places might once more begin filling their eating rooms. The previous 12 months has been essentially the most tough of Meyer’s gilded profession. When the pandemic arrived, his firm, Union Square Hospitality Group, shut down its nineteen eating places and likewise its occasions enterprise, which supplied catering for planes, stadiums, galas, and weddings. This meant shedding some two thousand folks. A number of days later, Floyd Cardoz, the chef who opened Tabla with Meyer, in 1998, died of COVID-19. Employees acquired sick and misplaced family members. Meyer was publicly criticized for looking for and receiving a mortgage from the Paycheck Protection Program—which Congress created to bail out small companies—for Shake Shack, the worldwide burger chain he based. (Shake Shack returned the ten-million-dollar mortgage to the federal government.) A stop-start summer time, fall, and winter adopted. Meyer’s eating places experimented with retail and supply, and with transport rooster potpies, lasagne, and different gadgets from coast to coast.
The night’s dinner service was simply starting, and Meyer went into the kitchen to greet Lena Ciardullo, the chief chef, who had not too long ago returned from maternity go away. How did it really feel to be cooking once more? “Back is sore,” she stated. “Cooking is good.” They mentioned the previous 12 months. Rather than returning to regular, issues now felt like they had been beginning over. “A big mistake is when people say we’re ‘reopening’ restaurants,” he stated. “We’re opening new restaurants.” The newest problem was staffing. Every place on the town was all of the sudden hiring on the identical time. Former staff had left the town, or left the trade, or had been cautious of giving up unemployment. Before the pandemic, Union Square Café normally had 13 folks within the equipmentchen for dinner. Now Ciardullo was making do with seven. The one that was making ready salads was additionally plating pastry.
“Our old pastry station is where we’re currently packing to-go orders,” Ciardullo stated. “But that means I don’t have anywhere to put ice cream.”
“Where’s the ice cream?” Meyer requested.
“We don’t have ice cream right now,” Ciardullo stated.
“Jesus,” Meyer replied.
Someone began frying soft-shell crabs. Meyer exited the kitchen, ascended a set of stairs, and chosen a desk on the balcony overlooking the eating room. He sat down and listened. “It’s very quiet,” he stated, ruefully. “The sounds of a restaurant are one of the things I missed most.” He picked up a knife and fork, clinked them collectively, and scratched them throughout a plate to exhibit what he meant. “It’s music,” he stated.
Ciardullo appeared, holding a dish of sourdough slices piled excessive with cheese and chopped bright-green vegetables. “We’ve got some burrata, some sugar snap peas, some pecans,” she stated. “Beautiful,” Meyer stated. “Very spring-y.” He ignored his portion whereas a customer chowed down.
Meyer talked in regards to the enterprise. Even earlier than the pandemic, he had been deeply concerned in debates about pay and sustainability within the trade. In 2015, his eating places had carried out away with tipping, in an try to even out the pay disparity between servers and kitchen employees. In July, he deserted the experiment, saying that in the course of the pandemic he didn’t need to deny any worker the prospect to make more money. It appeared that almost each premise within the enterprise had been examined. It wasn’t all dangerous information. Meyer glanced over the railing and out the window, on the coated patio exterior. It had as soon as been a gutter, parking areas. “This could be a savior of the full-service restaurant industry,” he stated, of out of doors eating. He appeared amazed at how an concept that now appears apparent had as soon as impressed resistance. The Modern, his restaurant on the Museum of Modern Art, overlooks the museum’s sculpture backyard, however there had by no means been tables put on the market. Meyer plans to achieve this this summer time, when the Modern reopens. “We used to feel, You can’t have café society right outside a Michelin two-star restaurant,” he stated. “And now: Hell, yes, you can.”
In April, Bill de Blasio named Meyer the board chairman of the town’s Economic Development Corporation, a kind of nodes in New York’s energy construction that nobody’s ever heard of however which management a huge sum of money. “They’re basically always trying to think, Where’s the puck going, for jobs?” Meyer stated. “De Blasio said, ‘I have one job for the rest of my term, and that’s to bring back the city’s economy, and bring back as many jobs and as many tourists, and get as many people back to work as possible.’ I thought, How can I not help the city? So I said yes.”
The eating room was filling up with patrons, and with the music of a restaurant. Laughter bounced off the partitions. Chairs scraped. A cappuccino machine hissed. “You can get a lot of good food in this city,” Meyer stated, rising from his seat. “Your favorite restaurant, invariably, is the one that loves you the most.” The very last thing he provided a customer was a handshake. ♦