Susan Salgado (STERN ’03)
Shaking Up Restaurant Culture
By Dulcy Israel
Portrait by Simons Finnerty
Back in the mid-’90s, when they were both pursuing MBAs at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Susan Salgado and her future husband would dine at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe when they visited Manhattan. In addition to the sensational fare, Salgado was impressed by the way the staff “approached their jobs with such passion,” she says. “They were so knowledgeable about the food and wine, and many of them had been there for years and years.” Salgado felt like she could write a dissertation on all that was right about the place. So she did—as part of her PhD in organizational behavior from the Stern School of Business. Meyer required that Salgado work in the field, and soon, as host reservationist at Union Square Cafe, she identified three things Meyer was doing “exceptionally well,” she says: the people factor, which got the right employees in the door and in the right roles; well-conceived systems and structure that made for a seamless guest experience; and Meyer’s leadership, as he knew what his employees were capable of accomplishing and always believed they had the best intentions (he coined the term “charitable assumption”). So impressed was Meyer with Salgado’s findings, he hired her as director of culture and learning in 2003 to build the same infrastructure at all of his establishments, which include the Shake Shack chain and Gramercy Tavern. Now Salgado employs the concepts she helped codify for Meyer at her own firm—Grason Consulting—which counts several departments at NYU as clients. “We had to make [the philosophies coming out of Union Square] explicit,” says Salgado. “Danny just did this stuff because he’s a good guy.”
Salgado identified three things Meyer was doing “exceptionally well”: the people factor, well-conceived systems that made for a seamless guest experience, and Meyer’s leadership.