The Sonoma International Film Festival’s winner of best documentary for food is a film called The Restaurateur. The film just hit New York for a couple of private screenings and we were lucky enough to be invited to attend Wednesday night’s screening. The film almost did not happen. It was Produced and directed by Roger Sherman, who waited to finalize the film until this year since it’s inception in 2009. Sherman told us “My footage sat on the shelf for eleven years because I didn’t see that I could make anything more than a process film. The series I developed to weave the behind-the-scenes creation of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla into, a chronicle of the coming of age of food in America, did not happen. Chefs were not then celebrities. Danny, while successful with Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, had not become DANNY MEYER. Last year the time seemed right to finish the film. I went back and shot at both restaurants to document how they had evolved. It didn’t hurt that EMP received four stars from The New York Times in the middle of production, a nice way to end the film”. Sherman’s film became an intimate look at Danny Meyer, one of America’s most successful restaurateurs. The film simply asks: How Danny Meyer does it?
Danny Meyer is no mere restaurateur; he is the CEO of the Union Square Restaurant Group. How exactly did this boy from St. Louis get to be one of the most admired in his industry? Danny grew up with a family that loved cooking. His love of food was further advanced since his father’s travel company allowed him to travel the world. It looked as if his path might lead him into politics and it almost did. Majoring from Trinity College with a degree in Poli-Sci Meyer ended up working on John Anderson’s presidential campaign. This career was short lived and by 1984 Meyer was an assistant manager at Pesca and one year later, at a fresh 27 years old, he began his career as a restaurateur by opening Union Square Cafe.
Danny Meyer owns more than a handful of restaurants including:
- Union Square Cafe (with Michael Romano)
- Gramercy Tavern
- Tabla (with Floyd Cardoz)
- Blue Smoke (with Kenny Callagahan)
- Eleven Madison Park
- Shake Shack
- The Modern
- Cafe 2
- Terrace 5
- Hudson Yards Catering
On December 9, 2009. Meyer stands in a dapper brown suit at EMP and says “After Tabla and Eleven Madison Park opened, I was pretty convinced I’d made one of the worst professional mistakes of my life.”The scene then fades to a vast, concrete space in January 22, 1998. Then, a younger-looking Meyer (wearing endearingly unflattering coat) says “This will be Eleven Madison Park, which we hope will be a great restaurant.”Tom Colicchio, chef of Gramercy Tavern, also looking younger (and not quite as bald), enters and Meyer describes his hopes and dreams for the location.
Sherman followed the restaurateur and his team for eleven months and got a glimpse at the many hardships and hurdles that a restaurateur can experience; construction delays, missing deadlines, and having to fire friends. The film reveals little details: how a jazz concert gave Meyer the idea for Tabla; the coordination between Meyer, his chef and the pastry chef and even gives the viewer a look into the life of Tabla’s chef Floyd Cardoz .
Meyer comes off as incredibly candid, charming and inspiring in this film. After the movie, he spoke to Sherman about how difficult it was watching some of the moments in his past and just how heart wrenching it can be to make certain decisions. You see how much respect and love he has for his team and how this translates into his successes. The film is a must watch for foodies, entrepeneurs and New Yorkers. Sherman’s film is more than a mere portrait of Meyer. The film has the possibility to inspire a struggling entrepeneur while giving valuable advice. It is a loving image of the city of New York, its landmarks, history, businesses, people and dreams. Ultimately, it is a film for foodies; anyone who loves food will leave the film incredibly happy albeit hungry.
Film goers need not worry, we remedied our hungry stomachs by heading over to Eleven Madison Park where we had an amazing dinner (I had the Knoll Crest Farm Egg (amazing) and the Bouillabaisse. Highly recommended dishes, impeccable service and a perfect end to the evening. And for some reason, I’m craving some custard right about now…