The hospitality industry is not known for its stability--and still, restaurateur Danny Meyer helped his business, Union Square Hospitality Group, thrive over the course of 37 years. Now, he's stepping down as CEO.
Meyer announced his decision on Twitter, sharing that COO and president Chip Wade would take on the role of CEO. Meyer will stay with the company in his new role as executive chairman.
In his tweet, he wrote that hopes to "keep learning and bringing fresh ideas to the table." Surely he'll have much to offer.
Meyer's fabled career path began in 1985. The then 27-year-old had just opened his first restaurant named for Manhattan's Union Square Park. That initial restaurant, Union Square Cafe, would set the stage for the creation of a restaurant group, dubbed Union Square Hospitality Group. Through that company, Meyer would variously found a number of successful New York City restaurants, 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 globe, 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 Paycheck Protection Program loan worth $10 million. After widespread criticism, the company returned the funds, which many suggested should go only to smaller companies that don't have the means of raising capital through the public markets.
Instead of succumbing to the criticism, Meyer seized the moment and became a vocal proponent for how the industry overall needed to transform. During a March 2021 interview with the Washington Post, Meyer shared the improvements he believes the restaurant industry must make to emerge from the crisis brought on by Covid. Namely, he suggests companies look for innovative solutions to address racial injustice, pay inequality, inefficient operations, and the fraught relationship between restaurants and third-party delivery apps.
And if nothing else, his tenure will forever be synonymous with people--specifically, going above and beyond for both 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"--basically, people who derive happiness from making other people feel good.
"Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It's that simple, and it's that hard," he wrote in his 2008 book Setting the Table.