Where the Shake Shack Founder Loves to Travel

The restaurateur Danny Meyer at Maialino, in New York's Gramercy Park Hotel.

Danny Meyer, the restaurateur and chief executive of the Union Square Hospitality Group, is well known for creating Shake Shack, the popular burger chain that started in New York City in 2004. This summer, he opened three dining destinations in the city, including Tacocina, an outdoor taco stand in Domino Park, on the East River in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“For Tacocina, we wanted a simple menu, with basically tacos and drinks,” Mr. Meyer said. “The tortillas are made from a corn variety sourced in Mexico.”

The company, which includes the Union Square Cafe and Blue Smoke, operates 15 stand-alone restaurant brands in the city, with additional eateries in airports, museums and professional sports stadiums. Shake Shack has become a global phenomenon, with 180 locations from Chicago to Kuwait.

Below are edited excerpts from an interview with Mr. Meyer.

You grew up in St. Louis. What are some of your fondest memories of living there?

I loved the simplicity of life: falling asleep each night with my transistor radio on my pillow and then running down the driveway each morning, as soon as the morning paper was delivered, to find out whether or not the Cardinals or Blues had won last night’s game.

During your college years, you worked for your father’s travel company as a tour guide in Rome. What were some of your favorite haunts?

Back then, my budget was spent largely at pizzerias, coffee bars and gelaterie. My favorites were Da Ivo and Ai Marmi in Trastevere, and Da Baffetto near the Piazza Navona. For coffee, I loved Sant’Eustacchio and Tazza d’Oro, and for gelato, Giolitti.

What first attracted you to New York?

As an undergrad at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., I made frequent weekend pilgrimages to New York. I found the energy intoxicating. Each weekend typically involved seeing a play, going to a couple of restaurants, hearing jazz one night, going to the Museum of Modern Art or the Whitney Museum of American Art and maybe even running out to Belmont Park on Sunday to play the ponies.

What inspired you to open Tacocina, as well as Manhatta and Bay Room, the restaurant and event space in Manhattan’s Financial District?

For Tacocina, we were presented a spectacular new riverfront park, formerly the front yard of the Domino Sugar factory. It is the perfect place to spend a sunny day or mild evening with friends, and it felt like a great atmosphere for something accessible and fun. Likewise, it dawned on us that New York hadn’t really experienced a high altitude [60th floor] restaurant and bar whose attitude was down to earth. That is Manhatta. We took the same approach with Bay Room, which we hope will become a classic venue for New Yorkers to celebrate and host important events in their life.

What was one of your most memorable vacations?

The memory that first comes to mind was a family vacation to France, when I was seven years old. My brother, sister and I each kept a diary, a parental trip requirement, so those first tastes of quiche Lorraine, fraises des bois and crème frâiche have been forever cemented. Another memory was crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the S.S. France.

Where is a place in the world where you are most eager to travel, and what makes it so appealing?

I’m having a tough time choosing between Vietnam and India. In each case, I’m fascinated by some combination of history, people and food.

Is there a restaurant that you really admire?

One that comes to mind is the River Cafe in London. I’m always happy when I’m there. The pristine, yet simple food, sophisticated drink, intelligent service and warm hospitality are second to none.

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