First Run Features // 2010 // 57 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // March 23rd, 2011
"I was pretty convinced I'd made one of the worst professional mistakes of my life." -- Danny Meyer, restaurateur
If you're a fan of TV shows like Top Chef and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, you'll want to check out The Restaurateur, a 2010 documentary by Roger Sherman about the New York City mega-restaurateur Danny Meyer. Meyer is the creator of such well-known New York eateries as Gramercy Tavern (co-founded by Top Chef's Tom Colicchio -- who appears briefly in a much younger, more amply coiffured form) and Shake Shack, and is one of very few players in his field who have been financially successful in a brutal economic climate. The Restaurateur is made up mostly of footage from 1998, when Sherman documented Meyer's grueling efforts to open two restaurants, Tabla and Eleven Madison Park, nearly simultaneously, with updated interviews from 2009.
Restaurateurs -- the people who create and manage restaurants -- tend to be a marginal presence on foodie TV, showing up most often as guest judges on competition shows, and although they're well known to chefs and industry insiders, most of us civilians have very little idea of what they actually do. The Restaurateur is a fascinating peek into the process, following Meyer all the way from conception to completion of two different restaurant concepts: Tabla, a high-end Indian restaurant, and Eleven Madison Park, serving haute Nouveau American cuisine.
I have to admit that, going in, I didn't know much about what restaurateurs did, and thought of them mostly as people in fancy business suits who did little more than write checks. I came away from The Restaurateur with greater appreciation, at least for those like Meyer, who is shown here to have a genuine passion for good food, and for creating unique environments for people to enjoy that food. It's illuminating to hear Meyer explain how he came up with the idea for Tabla, for instance -- the name refers to traditional Indian drums -- and see that some real thought went into its creation.
The Restaurateur also offers a detailed sense of how truly arduous the process is. Meyer and his team undergo a lengthy planning period for each restaurant, coordinating and scheduling everything from construction to hiring to marketing. Naturally, everything that can go wrong does. And, watching the footage shot during the economic prosperity of 1998 -- right on the edge of the dot-com bust, and three years from 9/11 and the following decade's Great Recession -- it's a little heartbreaking to watch Meyer's exuberance; his complaints that he actually can't find enough people to staff his restaurants sound like something from an alternate universe.
The feature-only screener we received of The Restaurateur didn't have any extras or other menu features that will be on the final DVD. Video and audio quality are variable, due to the age of much of the source material, videotaped on location over a decade ago. The older footage hasn't aged very well, but is certainly watchable; audio is pretty harsh depending on the filming conditions -- dialogue during some scenes during construction is almost indecipherable -- but mostly passable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 57 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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