The hospitality industry isn’t known for its stability – and yet restaurateur Danny Meyer has helped his company, Union Square Hospitality Group, thrive for 37 years. Now he is stepping down as CEO.
Meyer announced his decision on Twitter, sharing that COO and Chairman Chip Wade would take on the role of CEO. Meyer will remain with the company in his new role as executive chairman.
In his tweet, he wrote that he hopes to “keep learning and bringing new ideas to the table.” He will surely have a lot to offer.
Meyer’s legendary career path began in 1985. The 27-year-old had just opened his first restaurant named after Union Square Park in Manhattan. This initial restaurant, Union Square Cafe, would pave the way for the creation of a group of restaurants, dubbed the Union Square Hospitality Group. Through this company, Meyer found various successful restaurants in New York, including Gramercy Tavern and the Modern. In 2004, he founded the fast-casual chain Shake Shack, which he took public in 2015.
After the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world, the restaurant industry was particularly hard hit. His tenure suffered a black eye when Shake Shack, a publicly traded company that Meyer leads as chairman of the board alongside CEO Randy Garutti, applied for and received a loan from the Data Protection Program. paychecks worth $10 million. After much criticism, the company returned the funds, which many believe should only go to small businesses that cannot afford to raise capital in the public markets.
Instead of succumbing to criticism, Meyer seized the moment and became a strong believer in how the industry as a whole needed to transform. In a March 2021 interview with the Washington Post, Meyer shared the improvements he thinks the restaurant industry needs to make to emerge from the crisis caused by Covid. Namely, he suggests businesses seek innovative solutions to address racial injustice, wage inequality, inefficient operations, and the strained relationship between restaurants and third-party delivery apps.
And if nothing else, its mandate will forever be synonymous with people – specifically, going above and beyond for employees and customers. At the 2020 Inc. 5000 Vision conference, Mayer explained the importance of hiring the right people, noting that he looks for candidates with a high “hospitality quotient” or “HQ” — essentially, people who pull their happiness to make others feel good.
“Business, like life, depends on how you make people feel. It’s that simple and it’s that hard,” he wrote in his 2008 book. Set the table.