USHG Director of Operations Terry Coughlin talked about building a culture of giving back at the restaurant.

By Oset Babur
Updated June 11, 2019
Evan Sung

For Union Square Hospitality Group’s Director of Operations Terry Coughlin, this year’s Welcome Conference served as an opportunity to remind the hospitality professionals in the audience about their ability to enact meaningful change in their restaurant kitchens and dining rooms.

“I don’t believe my words here are revelatory to anyone in the audience,” he said. “It is a fact that the hospitality industry is built from some of the most generous human beings in the world.” When his daughter was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, Coughlin became involved with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which was founded by Paul Newman as “a place where a child with cancer or other life-threatening illness could come and with the help of state-of-the-art medical support, simply celebrate the joy of being a kid.” Moved by the spirit of generosity and support at the camp, Coughlin returned with renewed hope, and a desire to be part of the camp’s mission in the way he knew how to do best––with food.

“I love what I do and I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished, and that dinner is what I’m most proud of,” he said, talking about Camp Maialino, a once-a-year benefit dinner that occurs at the New York City restaurant to support the camp. “It makes me proud to be part of an industry that makes such a difference. At the core of what we do for a living is one of the most humble transactions: we cook, we serve, we host, we provide nourishment.”

While the dinners have raised over two million dollars over the past five years, Coughlin says he’s also noticed a real benefit to both the restaurant’s staff and the community surrounding it. “This is a really difficult time in the industry,” he said. “Margins are getting slimmer and slimmer, and restaurants that we love and consider institutions are closing. As we try to navigate this landscape in survival mode, it is often an honest conversation to say how can we do more with less, what is necessary and what is not. Giving is not necessary, but through the lens of our culture, it is absolutely necessary.”

Coughlin said the Camp Maialino dinners made his team better for many reasons, including strengthening the culture of the staff, who genuinely appreciated the opportunity to be part of something so special. “Millennials want to be a part of something extraordinary and meaningful. They are civic minded, and want more than just a job to show up to. Giving builds that culture,” he said.

Meanwhile, the dinners also provided an opportunity to further develop intimate relationships with restaurant regulars, who were excited by the chance to contribute their time and dollars to such a worthwhile cause.