Video Transcript

00:12 Scott Gerber: Hindsight, obviously being 20/20, with any entrepreneur in any business, you can always say, "Oh, I should have done this, I should have done that." But it ultimately gives you this path of experience. If you could go through that first year of business of what went right and what went wrong. But what did you learn after that first year?

00:28 Danny Meyer: I think after that first year, I learn that nothing mattered to me more than surrounding myself with a great staff that was fun to be with, that really wanted to make the place better. And then secondly, pleasing our guests. And I honestly don't even think for that entire first year, I knew how to read a P&L statement. I have no idea how we got lucky enough to survive. I was buying much too much wine, relative to our cash flow. I don't even think I knew what the term 'cash flow' meant in that first year.

00:59 Gerber: So you were going on an instinct more than going on traditional business understanding or practices?

01:03 Meyer: My entire first year was spent trying to prove that a team of people, even without a lot of restaurant experience, that was trying harder than any other restaurant to please its customers, and to hire really, really nice people to cook and to serve them, was the recipe for restaurant success.

01:27 Gerber: Any days where you thought you made the wrong decision, of going into the business altogether?

01:31 Meyer: No, there were really no days. There were some tough moments. I found that I had to develop a thicker skin when it came to restaurant reviews. And keep in mind, this was way before the era of the internet when everyone with the smartphone could file a restaurant review.

01:48 Gerber: What would one of the earliest reviews have said?

01:51 Meyer: Well, I'll never forget the very first review we got was from a restaurant critic, may he rest in peace, by the name of Seymour Britchky, and he gave us a dot, which was one level below one star.

02:06 Gerber: Wow!

02:07 Meyer: But it went further because he said, "This place will never make it. The blazer-clad, curly-headed owner can't keep his hands out of his hair, and thank god he's the owner and not the chef, so we don't need to worry about having hair in our food." And then he talked about the mural by Judy Rifka, the artist, at Union Square Cafe, and he said, "It looks like somebody finger-painted it on heroin and it's no challenge whatsoever for the Howard Christy murals at Café des Artistes." And I was just crestfallen. And so...

02:44 Gerber: Do you look back on that today as inspiration or sort of a journey that has taken you now to where you have five of the top 20 rated restaurants in New York and say, "This is where I was meant to go and this was the way I needed to get there"? Or is it more of that, he didn't know was he's talking about. Where does that fall in your life?

03:01 Meyer: Well, I think there's a little bit more to the story because what I learned about myself is how I handled it. I mean, I was hurt. I was... And I felt so badly for our staff and it infused me with a little bit of self doubt. I didn't say, "He's crazy", I said, "Maybe we really are that bad". And so I wrote him a note and I said, "Above all, I wanna thank you for being the first person to take an interest in this restaurant." And I said clearly those are not our aspirations for the place and I would just beg you to find an opportunity to take another look 'cause we intend to be here for a long time, and I wanna show you how much better we can get." And that was a hard letter to write, but it was a great lesson because, in fact, he came back in about six months later and promoted us to one star.