Union Square Cafe Is Back To Its Former Glory

Union Square Cafe
Union Square Cafe, Dining Room (Photo Credit: Rockwell-Group, Emily Andrews)
Blueprint floorplan floor plan restaurant kitchen renovation
Part of Total Food Service’s Blueprint Series on hot new restaurant kitchen renovations, new floor plans, and more.

Some restaurants in New York are so iconic that you could not see the city without them in it. For New York’s foodies it’s their love affair with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. Since 1985, Union Square Cafe has been accredited as one of the originators of contemporary American Cuisine and to this day remains an iconic New York City destination for warm hospitality.

Danny Meyer is one of the people in the industry that truly understands the concept of hospitality. The idea that you do not need a fresh new idea to be successful but to take something existing and simply do it better. Just look at Shake Shack, this burger chain has quickly taken over as one of America’s favorite burger spots. You can thank Meyer and his refreshing take on hospitality for that. Union Square Cafe is the personification of Danny Meyer’s philosophy on hospitality and continues to be a staple of the culinary world and iconic New York institution.

As you may recall, Union Square Cafe had to close its doors to its famous 21 E. 16th Street location due to monumental rent hikes. Meyer’s infamous spot had to close its doors for a year as they migrated to 19th Street and Park Avenue South and took over the old City Crab space. Union Square Cafe opened its doors again in December and is now back in its former glory and the restaurant is in full swing with their new two-story location. Today Union Square Cafe is continuing with its expansion plans as they introduce an additional grab ‘n go space called Daily Provisions. The new Grab ‘n Go extension of Union Square Cafe is now open and going strong.

Total Food Service had the opportunity to tour the new Union Square Cafe restaurant and its’ efficient kitchen, as well as get the project approach from:

  • Carmen Quagliata, Executive Chef, Union Square Cafe, NY, NY
  • Paul Ryan, Project Manager, Jacobs Doland Beer, NY, NY
  • Marc Fuchs, Dealer, M. Tucker/Singer, Paterson, NJ
  • Gene Cinotti, Equipment Representative, HCH Inc. (for Wells), Sparta, NJ

Chef Carmen Quagliata’s Approach:

I have been with Union Square Cafe 11 years ago this past January. When I first got to Union Square I had never worked so closely with a Greenmarket like the Union Square Greenmarket. So the evolution in those first years was to really be reactive to the market and to plan things seasonally. It was really those vegetables that were driving the menu. We were really farm to table before it was a fashionable trend.

Host Milano January 2019 728×90

When we knew we were going to have to move the restaurant I had a few concerns. My first was that I was not right next to the market. We were literally 50 feet from walking into a farm stand and that made it really easy to cook that way. So after we overcame that issue we became focused on how we can improve our functionality in the kitchen.

Union Square Cafe
The Jacobs Doland Beer design team specified a Jade battery to support the high volume demands of Union Sqaure Cafe’s multiple daypart operations.

I would keep notes on little things and changes that would make our teamwork as a more functional team. When the kitchen was ready to be built, we had already spoken with a few kitchen designers three years prior for another project. We hit it off with Gary Jacobs and his team and really enjoyed the way we went back and forth. So when we moved on to the 19th Street project I knew I wanted to work with these guys. Gary would put ideas up on his laptop and I was able to take what he had and add to it with functionality in mind.

I learned so much from them that I was quickly able to take the ideas or thoughts and make them better. We even got to the point where Paul Ryan one of the chief designers would come and watch us cook. Gary and Paul would come in for dinner and lunch and they would watch and get an idea of what was important to me. We would talk a lot about food and equipment or things we wanted to do. We also talked about what we wanted to do with Daily Provisions and the space that we would need. I just told them what was important and all the nitty gritty things like not having poles on the line so my cooks can slide plates right to my sous chef. They made it happen.

We are glad that we were able to put a little bit more money into the kitchen equipment. We wanted equipment that would last. With a little more space we are able to do things that we never could do on 16th Street. The Jade range was new for me. I had never used Jade but when I cooked on them I like the sturdiness and power. Aside from all the work we did in the kitchen we were really able to bring some incredibly cool elements to our private dining space. The space itself flowed pretty naturally for us to put in the private dining in the back corner of the second floor. We have a table for 12 and a room that can be divided where we can do private events for 60 people in one night. The challenge was to design and build a ventless electric cooking suite to support the private dining. We were able to incorporate some new technologies from Wells. We have ventless electric cooking capabilities as we do a lot of frying up there and heavy duty searing. My sous chef could not be happier.

Paul Ryan’s Approach:

I first got involved in the project from the onset of a previous project for Union Square that never got off the ground in the fall of 2015. Our approach for the kitchen was a hybrid of a la carte and private dining. The challenge was what could we do better than the original Union Square Cafe. The original kitchen on 16th Street was incredibly small but somehow they made it work and it was really something to watch.

We had to be able to create a prep kitchen and be able to support all these things, the ground floor a la carte kitchen had to be able to provide Daily Provisions and the Union Square Cafe menu. On the balcony level we created a dedicated private dining room and a la carte kitchen. This was quite a puzzle because of the space. We were left with this weird L shape main ground floor and a cellar kitchen.

The project required a lot of compromise from our initial layout. We had to sacrifice some of the front of house space of Daily Provisions to make the service at Union Square café really work which is where Rockwell Design came in, we did our best to push as little as possible but eventually we had to take another 50 or 100 square feet in order to make that unit work. On the hot side of things we worked very closely with Chef Carmen to learn from to see what would work and what would not. Carmen was amazing to work with and really helped us understand what his style needed in the kitchen.

Marc Fuchs’ Approach:

Our goal was to support Jacobs Doland and use the great working relationship we have with Union Square Hospitality. Our on-site project manager helped facilitate the drawing. We went with the one-source person that could supplement the team and be onsite. This was a blank slate project for us. A lot of the issues and challenges we faced was not much of an issue for us but more on the architect and engineers that had to deal with it. We take the vision of the architect and consultant and make sure the equipment package is exactly what they are looking for. The project was a real full team effort that had all members communicating with open dialogues so we could create a seamless cooking experience for the culinary team. 

Gene Cinotti’s Approach:

Union Square Cafe
The dedicated work of local rep Gene Cinotti of HCH in coordination with
Wells Manufacturing enabled Union Square Cafe to create a new fully electric kitchen to support private dining.

My part in the Union Square Cafe was to work with the City of NY to be able to get approval for ventless equipment. It’s a challenge when it comes to getting ventless approvals for equipment in NYC. You have to meet a certain list of criteria, what the city calls certain conditions of approval before you can even entertain bringing that type of equipment into the city. Then you need to get a COA from the fire department, which is only issued if you meet the criterion that’s set forth in those conditions of approval.

The FDNY and the Department of Buildings (DOB) establish these approvals. We worked on Union Square’s behalf to receive a docketed stamped drawing from the DOB that stated where the ventless equipment was going to be used. Once they had the conditions of approvals met we made an application to the FDNY for a site visit and evaluation to see if we could get the approval signed off by FDNY to move forward.

After we got that approval we worked with Wells to complete the application. These applications are so challenging to the point of where you have to have everything triplicate in a hard binder in a certain font size. After the site visit by FDNY we got the COA and were able to get the install complete.

To learn more about Union Square Cafe, please visit their website.