Over the last two decades, New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer has asked himself a lot of questions: "Who says you can't do fine dining in a rustic tavern?" "Why can't museum food be destination-worthy?" Meyer's success—at last count, his Union Square Hospitality Group included 10 restaurants, one catering company and over a thousand employees—is due to his ability to challenge convention when it comes to all aspects of a restaurant. This is especially true when it comes to wine-and-food pairings.
Take Tabla, Meyer's elegant Indian-inspired restaurant. "I laid out everything from my experiences with Indian restaurants," Meyer explains, "and when I realized wine wasn't a part of it, I said, 'There is an opportunity.' Just because people may be less familiar with Indian flavors doesn't mean they shouldn't enjoy wine with them." Another example is his Blue Smoke, a barbecue joint that proves wine is as well suited to ribs as sweet tea and beer. And Shake Shack, an outdoor food stand specializing in exceptionally good burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard and wine served in plastic cups.
The diversity of Meyer's restaurants means that his wine programs appear, on the surface at least, to have very little in common. "I've made a conscious choice," he explains, "to let each restaurant have its own chef, wine director, general manager—its own flavor in every respect." At all of his places, however, there's an absence of wine-geek pretense that is entirely deliberate. "I think staff education is a huge part of it," Meyer says, explaining that many of his wine directors started as cooks (Juliette Pope at Gramercy Tavern), servers (Christopher Russell at Union Square Cafe, Chris Murray at Terrace 5, Terry Coughlin at Tabla) or reservationists (Mark Maynard-Parisi at Blue Smoke) and got hooked by the company's in-house wine training.