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When looking around for a good food-related movie, I found the short (58 min) documentary The Restaurateur (directed by Roger M. Sherman), which follows the conception, building, and opening of two of Meyer's restaurants (Eleven Madison Park and Tabla) near Madison Square Park (in the Flatiron district) in New York City. The film won Best Documentary--Food at the Sonoma Film Festival, so I thought I'd give it a shot.
Here's the studio's summary:
A film about the grueling construction of not one but two world-class restaurants. We follow Danny Meyer, arguably the most successful restaurateur in America. Our cameras follow the creation of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla during the hellish eleven-month construction process. Meyer imparts his business and restaurant philosophy while trying to keep his cool. Jumping back to the future, 2009, we learn how the restaurants have evolved, EMP receiving a coveted four stars by The New York Times.Although I can't say this was an exciting movie to watch, I interested in what it took to create a restaurant from the ground up. The documentary starts with Meyer walking through the gutted space of the 1929 Metropolitan Life Building on Madison Square, talking about his vision for the establishments he planned to open.
The film takes place in 1998 and focuses on how Meyer overcame building code restrictions, a lack of available staff, and a change in chefs and how the concepts of the restaurants came into fruition. I loved how he embraced the building's historical elements (protected by law) and how he had a eye for the littlest of details (such as the placement of each and every chair in the restaurant).
Besides discussing the concerns of the restaurants themselves, Meyer reflects on general good business practices, such as making sure the staff is comfortable and well trained and understanding the needs of the clients. I loved his philosophy of hiring and being a boss; for example, he wants to be surrounded by people he would welcome to his own dinner table and wants his staff to feel challenged and to be given the opportunity to grow. Make no mistake, Meyer is a businessman, but he understands the need to build loyalty and respect.
There is a lot to admire about Danny Meyer, who managed to remain fairly calm during the stresses of putting together the restaurants. The documentary aired on PBS in 2010 and is available from a number of streaming services. Set aside some time to learn about a man who seems to be equally at home founding elegant four-star restaurants and popularizing park-side burger joints.