Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, spoke to Penn State students and faculty during a “fireside chat” Zoom session on April 8.
Listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2015, Meyer is an entrepreneur with a strong success record. He is the author of the Union Square Café Cookbook and his restaurants have received numerous awards and routinely appear in the Zagat guide as among the most popular eateries in New York City. Some of the restaurants his company runs include Shake Shack, Grammercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and The Modern.
The meeting with Meyer was part of a case study project that focused on Union Square Hospitality Group and its journey in 2020 through the pandemic months. This was a multi-disciplinary effort with undergraduate students enrolled in five classes at Penn State Lehigh Valley. The disciplines involved in the case study included Business, Information Science & Technology and Sociology.
Faculty members participating in this project were Maung Min (Business), Denise Ogden (Marketing), Jennifer Parker (Sociology), Eileen Grodziak (Human Development and Family Studies) and Kermit Burley (Information Technology). The faculty team partnered with Laura Cruz for the design of the research project. Cruz is an associate research professor of Teaching and Learning Scholarship at Schreyer Institute of Teaching Excellence.
For the chat, Meyer described his management style as “enlightened hospitality management.” He believes in servant leadership and building strong teams. In college he majored in political science and was on his way to becoming a lawyer. As he was about to take the Law School Admission Test, he realized that law was not his passion and instead decided to follow “his itch” for food and restaurant management. In 1985, at the age of 27, Danny opened his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, launching what would become a lifelong career in hospitality. His company would go on to set industry standards in areas such as hiring practices, innovative leadership and corporate responsibility.
Meyer is also a Walter J. Conti Visiting Professor in the Penn State School of Hospitality Management. He first visited the University Park campus in September 2013 for his earliest lecture and roundtable discussion with students as a Conti Professor. His company has been recruiting Penn State students for internships and full-time jobs for many years.
Meyer told students to follow their “itch” and pursue careers that will make them happy. During the chat, students took turns asking questions. Many questions centered around his company’s response to the pandemic and his leadership philosophy and style.
One student remarked that Meyer had a lot to deal with when COVID-19 hit. According to student Benjamin Heckler, “Mr. Meyer was under a lot of pressure when the pandemic hit and did a great job of proving himself to be a caring leader.”