This Blog is the 3rd, in a series of EIGHT, that focuses on the success behind Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.
Sometimes the most profound lessons, in business and in life, are hidden in plain sight.
My first on-sight experience of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) is appropriately their latest endeavour Daily Provisions at 103 E.19th Street NY where I met Whitney Sanchez, the USHG’s Guest Relations Manager for a cruller.
Daily Provisions is the newest addition to the USHG, opening in February 2017. It’s right next door to the Union Square Café’s new space, (relocated from its original position East 16th Street to the corner of Park Avenue and 19th Street). In fact, the two businesses share back of house space, and they are led by the same Chef; Carman Quagliata.
On the edge of the pricey Gramercy neighbourhood, known for its quieter, greener and residential feel (but still within an exciting distance from the bustling Union Square). Daily Provisions seeks to serve the local neighbourhood. It’s a discerning neighbourhood; expect doormen. Even in the larger, non-doorman buildings, don’t bother the local real estate agent unless you have about 1.5 million US for a tiny 1 bedroom place without a view.
‘Neighbourhood’ is an idea that was to resurface over again throughout my USHG pilgrimage, but I’ll come back to that.
Meanwhile, as a mature expression of the USHG’s business acumen, Daily Provisions is a bit like an Italian Suit; simple, quality and sexy all at the same time.
Florence Fabricant (interesting name) writes in The New York Times (Feb 7), that Daily Provisions is “extremely well-tailored” – it is, in more ways than one.
Daily Provisions’ business strategy is as well tailored as its décor, and in many ways, it encapsulates one of the strongest lessons I gained from my fortnight exploring the ideas that make the USHG so successful
For practitioners in the industry, the core lesson is the seductive nature of simple quality.
It’s not said ‘out-loud’, but Daily Provisions is a prototype store, and the Manager Max is clearly a driven man; he’s working long hours, and has taken the success of the place personally.
At this stage, Daily Provisions serves breakfast and lunch only, although ‘lunch’ is served until 9 pm. At one stage, they did have the intention of opening for dinner, but they wisely decided to keep it simple. They do serve take away Rotisserie Chicken from 3 pm for $18.50 for those in the neighbourhood to take home.
The décor is ‘nautical-less city boathouse’ if there is such a thing; marine blue, tongue-in’-groove wainscoting and white marble, medium toned timber and stainless steel, (the hooks under the counter for bags is a nice touch). It’s the European takeout model, where space is small, but standing leaners, minimum counter and window seating are provided.
The layout has been designed around the concept and the systems. There is an almost permanent line, at least there was when I was there, down the middle to the POS which was placed centre back. The counter is to the right and the leaners to the left. This means that the orders are (theoretically) not interfering with those making the coffees and assembling food, and the diners are not in amongst the waiting line.
The division of tasks is clean; no overlap is occurring. Max, as manager, greets and takes orders, (and in my case, wears an All Black apron and attempts the Haka). Daily Provisions is cashless, this simplifies the nature of the buying transaction, and they had a clean and simplified electronic process. The electronic nature of Daily Provisions, in conjunction with the nature of the menu, creates fast and efficient service and allows Max to focus on hospitality.
The concept is a neighbourhood coffee, bakery and sandwich shop, and showcases the Union Square Café basement bakery. The aim is to provide better versions of food ‘we already know’. The tangy sourdough, is moreish-ly good, and it’s the first time I have ever seriously considered conspiring against New Zealand Customs to smuggle in multiple loaves, (the quality of widely available good bread in New Zealand has been a constant source of personal frustration).
The menu is basic, but the food isn’t. For breakfast, there are essentially five bakery choices, two breakfast gougères, and three types of egg sandwiches. The items are technically difficult to copy. The Daily Provisions ‘cruller’, for example, is an in-house invention by Pastry Chef Daniel Alvarez with Danny Meyer which took a few months to perfect, (although eating THREE was probably a little over-the-top).
The choices are simple; choose between the ‘Morning’ menu (7.30am- 11 am) and ‘Day’ menu (the Day menu begins at 11.30am, in between only coffee and pastries are available).
For the Menus – please go to www.dailyprovisionsnyc.com
The Morning Menu is a simplified 10 items, and the Day Menu is simplified further still, with 5 items & 3 sides. There are five loaves for sale and 3 further bakery items. A vastly shortened list of 8 coffee choices, 3 wine choices, 3 beer choices, and 8 further cold drink choices. There are 5 hot teas and 2 cold teas available, and Hot Chocolate – when ‘in season’.
Daily Provisions does not busy itself stupid trying to please everybody, rather it provides specifically what the neighbourhood likes and what is not already provided. What it does provide, it provides stylishly, efficiently and with the sort of studied excellence that ‘creates raves’.
The focus is narrow and outstanding.
In everything they provide, they support localised and grass-root suppliers, (see list below).
The strategy is hardly new; neighbourhood belonging, repeat customers, a superior version of the familiar, making the customer feel like they are part of something that’s substantial – it’s all post 3.0 marketing; community, locally supplied … meaningful.
The smart stuff is the simplicity of delivery. The ‘meaning’, if you like, is immediate and easy to grasp.
The Top FIVE lessons for comparative businesses from Daily Provisions (USHG):
- Create a sense of belonging in your local neighbourhood, by overtly targeting a better version of what they already love, but don’t already have.
- Create meaning beyond the product. Are you sourcing locally? Are you being a steward of the local environment?
- Consider your branding; does your décor help the customer feel like they are part of something meaningful? Is it immediate and easy to grasp, or unnecessarily complicated or crazy expensive and characterless?
- Are your systems clean and simple? Is the customer experience uncomplicated? Would going cashless make a difference? How are you dividing tasks, and is it working for the team and the customer?
- Keep it ALL very SIMPLE; reduce everything back to what is working. There’s no need to have 20 items on a menu and 25 things in a food cabinet; make what you do exceptionally every time and keep your focus narrow.
Remember this model comes from a desire to create a prototype that works, and post the experience that has already delivered some of the finest and most successful hospitality businesses in the world.
Daily Provisions, is like the Lord’s Prayer – simple but deceptively redemptive and designed to provide warmth every day.
Reflections on New York, Alexis O’Connell for The Hospitality Company
Daily Provisions suppliers: