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No one is a bigger supporter of the three Union Square Hospitality restaurants in Battery Park City than I am. In late 2011, when Shake Shack opened, then Blue Smoke and North End Grill, for the first time ever, BPC finally had some quality restaurants.
Like many neighborhoods where a good restaurant opens up, the community was changed dramatically. Across from North End Grill, 2 River Terrace went from being a bankrupted condo building constructed at the height of the housing bubble, with empty apartments no one wanted, to becoming the choice for new A-list celebrities to call home. Indeed, all of North BPC has now become a better real estate market than Tribeca. The top athletes and celebrities are choosing BPC rather than Tribeca.
However, the community also helped out Danny Meyer tremendously. Mr. Meyer was not graciously helping us peasants. Not only did the community pay for his overpriced food, but we helped out his restaurants in major ways.
The strip of North End Avenue that faces North End Grill is dramatically different now. In 2011, when North End Grill opened, there were no traffic lights. Pedestrians were being run over by cars and buses, so Danny Meyer asked for my help. I wrote some stories in BatteryPark.TV and communicated with the City DOT and other agencies. The power of Goldman Sachs also got involved, causing the Battery Park City Authority to pay for new traffic lights that were installed within months.
The strip of street that is directly in front of the Conrad Hotel and North End Grill is now a “No Standing” zone, as well as a turning lane. Prior to 2012, parking was allowed, and the illegal livery cabs and delivery trucks cluttered the street. Once again, I wrote some stories and the city changed the signage. Now, North End Grill enjoys an unobstructed view of the Irish Memorial and horizon, allowing them to have a rare outdoor seating in Manhattan.
Across the street by 2 River Terrace, a fruit cart vendor was trying to set up shop. I started the effort to organize the community. With the help of the apartment buildings and the Conrad hotel, the fruit cart (and all of the livery cabs that loitered in front of it) was evicted after a long battle.
Another obstacle that was removed from the view of North End Grill was the big brown UPS truck. The driver suddenly preferred our empty North End Ave “No Standing” zone as his place to park for hours while making deliveries. I personally made sure that the truck was removed, but it was not easy. The driver ignored his local managers, and I had to go to the Atlanta headquarters of UPS to file complaints.
Throughout all of these efforts to keep North End Grill clean, never once did any Union Square Hospitality employee lift a finger to help with any of the causes. Danny Meyer played the role of neutral Switzerland. His managers were instructed to not get involved.
Meanwhile, the pent-up-demand for quality restaurants was so great that we all stumbled over ourselves to praise Danny Meyer’s trio of new food spots. This was despite the fact that two of them were just not that good.
The BPC Blue Smoke had serious problems with staffing and a limited menu of mostly greasy ribs. Nevertheless, people still showed up for the first year. However, afterward business fell off. When the Blue Smoke people implemented almost all the changes that I had recommended, the place turned around for a while, but it is in chaos again.
Around the corner at the fine dining North End Grill, under the guidance of Chef Floyd Cardoz, they were given a charitable 2-stars by the New York Times, and some pure PR-infomercial accolades by Zagat, but the food was never good. Over the last 18-months, with business in decline, Danny Meyer made a change, bringing in Chef Eric Korsh.
Chef Korsh seems to be quite talented, but North End Grill remains in crisis, and Danny Meyer is nowhere to be found. Indeed, Mr. Meyer has announced that he has hired a “lieutenant” to which he is delegating the management of the fine dining restaurant.
In stark contrast to this negligent ownership style of Danny Meyer, an even bigger restaurateur, Stephen Starr, is taking root in BPC with El Vez. When Starr opens a new restaurant, he personally manages the site, along with his best managers from each division of the industry. They stay on-site for months. I just saw Mr. Starr last night, for example.
With Danny Meyer’s North End Grill being at risk for becoming the second fine dining restaurant that has failed for Mr. Meyer, after Tabla, it would seem prudent that the owner should be closely watching the shop. Right? Instead, Danny Meyer has checked out. He is not on-site.
Currently, Blue Smoke is undergoing yet another change in chefs and managers, and the consistency is off. One day you might get a fine meal, but on a slow weekend when the managers are not looking, a rogue chef might slip you a disgusting experiment of an entree. They claim that a whole new restaurant will be unveiled in October. Given their poor track record to date, that is not a certain outcome.
Over at North End Grill, the food is getting better, but the dining staff morale is low. Some of the employees who have been around since the opening feel as if they are the unwanted bastard child of Danny Meyer. They were blindsided to read in the newspaper that he sold 40% of the company and hired a “lieutenant” to oversee the restaurants.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Danny Meyer is now focusing on expanding his fast food chain called Shake Shack. That’s fine. He has a right to become rich, but he does not have a right to mismanage prime real estate in our community that could be better used by other businesses.
Every building in BPC is owned by the BPCA. The restaurant spaces occupied by Danny Meyer, which seem to never have been a project that he even wanted to take on in the first place, should not be allowed to be mismanaged, giving BPC a bad reputation.
This is a crucial time in history for the evolving community of Battery Park City. After 40-years, it has finally become a fully constructed neighborhood. If BPC gets a reputation for having bad fine dining, it will never get a second chance.
Danny Meyer has now officially “sold out”, literally. If he no longer wants to make the proper effort to run North End Grill and Blue Smoke, then he should sell them to someone who does. Plenty of great chefs are already coming to BPC, such as Carbone, Garces, and possibly Jean-Georges.
The fine chefs at Eleven Madison parted ways with Danny Meyer and went on to achieve 3-Star Michelin status. Likewise, Battery Park City does not need Danny Meyer.
Mr. Meyer, it is time for you to leave BPC. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.