Fans hungry to hear celebrity chef Meyer

Danny Meyer is known for serving good food at several popular restaurants in New York and Connecticut, including the Shake Shack in Westport, as evidenced by the 21 James Beard Awards garnered by his food enterprises and chefs.

On Wednesday, Meyer spoon-fed his business philosophy of "enlightened hospitality" to an audience of 210 people, many of whom willingly waited in a long line at Dolce Norwalk Center for Leadership and Innovation after the celebrity chef's presentation to have him autograph his books.

Meyer was the guest speaker at the second annual StarWrite Author's Luncheon to benefit the Connecticut chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The culinary star has written the New York Times Bestselling "Setting the Table," a business manual originally intended for his 2,400 employees within the Union Square Hospitality Group, of which he is CEO. He has also co-authored with his partner Chef Michael Romano two cookbooks, "Union Square Cafe Cookbook" and "Second Helpings from Union Square Cafe." Key to Meyer's message was the importance of replicating people's earliest life experiences in a business model that balances service and hospitality, the latter of which he defined as making people feel good. Meyer said the first three minutes of a newborn's life introduces them to four essential elements that businesses would be wise to provide to their clients.

"We (get) eye contact, a smile, a hug and some pretty good food," Meyer said, adding that a hug is a "mutual exchange of pleasure." Even business comes down to those four basic things, he said. The concept has application in all fields of business, but he used what he knows best to get his point across.

Getting "the right food to the right table at the right temperature at the right time" is only the 49 percent service part of good business practices. The remaining 51 percent has to be hospitality, creating an experience that feels good and convinces the person that they want to come back, he said.

That ability to make people feel good is increasingly important in today's culture, Meyer said. "The more high-tech we get, the more high-touch people want." Meyer told the audience a hand-written note meant something in the past but takes on added significance in these high-tech times.

Of hospitality, Meyer said, "It happens for you, it doesn't happen to you."

"We believe hospitality is a team sport," he explained, using baseball to drive the message home. He said a team can have a star pitcher and star fielders but they all work as a team toward the same goal.

Also under the umbrella of Union Square Hospitality Group are Meyer's Union Square Events, the company's catering and events business, and a learning organization called Hospitality Quotient, which aims to empower companies to transform businesses through the power of hospitality.

Meyer said his concept of enlightened hospitality is "transferrable to every business" and the organization gets calls about his concept from a variety of businesses, the most frequent from hospitals.

"It's interesting that `hospital' is tucked into the word hospitality," Meyer said.

The idea is for a business to be really good at what it does while also being really good at how it makes people feel, he said.

As an example, someone who considered his Shake Shack a favorite place to get a burger, but also identifies it as a great place for hospitality, is paying him "the highest compliment," Meyer said.

"I never thought of hospitality the way he talked about it," said Clare Clark of Westport. "It's not really about getting the food to the right table on time. That's the business part. The hospitality part is how the experience makes you feel, and whether or not you want to return," said Clark, a member of the Westport Woman's Club.

Charlie Yost of Norwalk said he was interested in the way Meyer prioritized the five stakeholders in his business ventures: employees, clients, suppliers, the community and investors. "It's an interesting look at things," Yost said.

"Danny was great. I wish his concept of enlightened hospitality could be applied to politics," said Penny Pearlman of Westport, an 11-year cancer survivor and member of the StarWrite Author's Luncheon committee. Pearlman is also credited with coming up with the author's luncheon idea as a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She serves on the organization's board of directors.

Rosann Levy of Norwalk, also a member of the event committee, said proceeds will support cancer research and patient services, including the Patti Robinson Kauffmann First Connection Program which pairs newly diagnosed patients with someone who has been successfully treated for the same diagnosis. Pearlman is one such person who helps patients learn coping skills and gain hope.

"This is the most important thing we have to do in life is to help people get well, create awareness about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and help raise money for research that will help stamp out this horrible disease," said Levy, who has a son who is a 9½-year cancer survivor.

For more information about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, visit or call 800-955-4572.