Gramercy Park Block Association - Neighborhood News #502
In the article below, our dear friend and neighbor restaurateur Danny Meyer answers questions about his travel experiences. He is photographed at his Maialino restaurant in the Gramercy Park Hotel, our Gramercy Park Block Association's "de facto city hall".


Travel Q&A With Restaurateur Danny Meyer
The owner of Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café, whose eateries now dot the globe, on what he always packs in his bag-and never drinks on planes

February 6, 2014


DANNY'S DISH | Danny Meyer at Maialino in New York Brandon Schulman for The Wall Street Journal

IF ONE PERSON were to be crowned king of New York's dining scene, there's a good chance it would be Danny Meyer.


Back in 1985, he opened Union Square Cafe, a relaxed yet refined eatery in a then-iffy Manhattan neighborhood. Today, the 55-year-old's Union Square Hospitality Group has some 3,000 employees, 10 fine-dining restaurants and a handful of casual establishments. 


Collectively they have received 25 James Beard awards; in 2011, Eleven Madison Park was awarded three Michelin stars (it has since been sold to executive chef Daniel Humm and general manager Will Guidara).


But don't call what Mr. Meyer has built an empire. That means "trying to gobble up more territory for the sake of gobbling up more territory," he said. "We grow when people on our team are ready to grow." And he opens in places where he likes to spend time, he said. In 2007, the St. Louis native opened Union Square Tokyo; the Shake Shack burger chain has 41 outposts, including locations in London, Istanbul and Moscow.


Mr. Meyer got the travel bug at an early age-his father designed driving tours through France and ran group excursions for airline employees. Mr. Meyer and his siblings each spent a summer working as a guide for their father; Mr. Meyer picked Italy. "I loved taking the crankiest person on day one and turning them into the happiest person by day four," he said. "That was the root of my loving hospitality."


These days Mr. Meyer travels to give speeches, check on his restaurant "collection" or seek inspiration. This weekend, he and a couple of new team members are flying to London to check out the dining scene. En route, they will taste the new in-flight meals Mr. Meyer helped develop for Delta business class. On Feb. 22 he will be the co-honoree at the Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival's tribute dinner in Miami.


In New York, most evenings find him visiting-but not eating at-his restaurants. He has dinner at home with his wife, Audrey, and, if it's not too late, their three teenage children. Their 20-year-old daughter, Hallie, attends Yale, but her father still sees her plenty: He opened a Shake Shack in New Haven her sophomore year.


My first big trip was: when I was 7, and my family traveled to Europe for the first time. We went to France and I was made to keep a diary, which I hated, but I was writing about food that I loved-quiche Lorraine, fraises des bois, crème fraîche. That stuff meant something to me even back then.


I spent my childhood summers at: Camp Nebagamon, the camp in Wisconsin that my father and his brother went to. I was co-winner of the chef's cap competition when I was 14 years old. This was a precursor to "Iron Chef"-each contestant was given the same basket of food to cook with. I did a lemon chicken in a Dutch oven cooked underneath coals and a layer cake baked on a reflector oven using fire as the heat source. One of the layers of my cake fell and I didn't get all of the ashes off it. That's the reason I tied and didn't win.


The place I keep going back to is: Italy. I spent a year and a half there and have made over 75 trips there. I gasp for air if I don't get to breathe Italian air once a year. I'm currently gasping because I haven't been recently.


My best travel tip is: if you love a meal you eat in another city, connect with the people at the restaurant and say, "Can you give me the names of another two or three restaurants that you think are close to being as good as you?" You really get people talking.


Moscow  Getty Images
One of the most mind-blowing cities is: 
Moscow. It's a city that expresses layer upon layer of power and beauty and starkness, all seen through the lens of many different generations. There's a restaurant and bar there called Delicatessen; if I hadn't listened to the language being spoken, I could have been at a hipster bar in Williamsburg [Brooklyn] with really good food.


My rule when I fly is: such a cliché, but I don't drink alcohol on airplanes. Just a ton of water. I rarely drink tomato juice now that I know how much salt is in it. Every three hours I use David Kirsch's Vitamin B12 spray. I never get sick on airplanes, which is incredible. You're basically in a flying petri dish.

David Kirsch Wellness Co. B12 spray; 'Unbroken' by Laura Hillenbrand; Saucony sneaker F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal (spray, book)

On planes I like to read: the seven magazines I'm behind on, plus whatever book I'm trying to start. Next trip is "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand.


My favorite luggage brand is: T. Anthony. I use a boarding tote for overnights and a garment bag when I'll need a suit.


Some of my favorite hotels are: the Sheraton in Doha, Qatar. The Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. I adored the Ritz-Carlton in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo. They offer things that you don't have in your own home-I don't get my shoes shined at home, my bedroom is not that spacious and I don't have someone at my beck and call to make me reservations. But they're welcoming in a way that makes me feel like it is my home.


Developing airplane food is a challenge because: food tastes different on a plane. The chef can taste a dish or a sauce in the kitchen and that's pretty much what it's going to be like at your table. But your taste buds are completely different at 30,000 feet than they are at sea level. Trying to adjust for seasoning or acid is something we don't have a lot of experience with right now.


I always pack: Saucony running shoes and a pair of running shorts. I run in London, in San Francisco-any city that's got a waterfront or park.


Every traveler should: walk. One of the greatest life lessons I ever learned was from one of my college professors. He told me that we learn at an inverse proportion to the speed at which we travel. If you're in a car, you're going to see some things. If you're on a bike, you're going to see more things and if you're walking, you're going to see a whole lot more things-and that's where great ideas come from.

Corrections & Amplifications

This weekend, Danny Meyer and a couple of new team members are flying to London to check out the dining scene. On Feb. 22 he will be the co-honoree at the Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival's tribute dinner in Miami. An earlier version of this article had the dates of the events incorrect. Additionally, a photo shows Mr. Meyer at Maialino. The earlier version stated he was at Marea.


-Edited from an interview by Lauren Mechling


 Click here to read the article on the WSJ website.