When you spend a ridiculous amount of time, energy and money eating at restaurants, you get to know a few of the people who work in the restaurant industry. One such person I have become acquainted with over the years is Chris Russell, currently the General Manager of the Union Square Cafe. I must have met Chris close to 10 years ago when he was a Captain at Gramercy Tavern, and he handled a number of wine dinners that my friends and I had organized at the restauarnt. It was way back in the day when Tom Collicchio was doing the cooking himself, and I recall Tom bounding out of the kitchen on more than one occasion to get himself a pour of some unusual wine that we were drinking. Nowadays Chris has moved up the food chain and is a big shot, and instead of organizing the food for my table, he graciously takes my phone calls when I need a table at USC on short notice. He is the living evidence that on occassion, nice people who are dedicated to their job actually get rewarded in life.
But getting a table on short notice isn't the only benefit I got out of our acquaintance. One day an invitation to the Union Square Cafe 20th anniversary party arrived in the mail. Why yes, Mrs P and I would be honored to attend, thank you very much. It was a fun affair that included some tasty hors d'ouvres being passed around by the waitstaff. But what impressed me most about the occassion was that the guest list for the party wasn't just a who's who of the city's culinary cogniscenti, it became clear fairly quickly that most of the guests were customers who were being thanked for their support over the years. Mrs P and I settled in the bar area, but about an hour into the party Chris approached us with someone in tow and said, "Steve, I would like you to meet Richard Corraine who is a principal in the Union Square Hospitality Group." The introduction took me a bit by surprise. Up until that point in time, I didn't realize that Danny Meyer had partners who weren't the chefs that operated their restaurants. But what the hell, I can adjust to just about anything on short notice and we settled in for a chat.