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Country: United States
Director: Roger Sherman
Featuring: Danny Meyer
Run time: 57 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
Special feature: 27 minute epilogue
On March 29th, First Run Features releases The Restaurateur on DVD. It’s the story of two restaurants being opened at the same time by New York restaurant entrepreneur Danny Meyer. The two establishments, Tabla and Eleven Madison Park, are going to share the same space with a wall dividing them. Meyer is already hugely successful with his other fine-dining restaurants in New York City, so he has a background in this sort of thing.
The documentary begins in the mid-90s, when he buys the building and starts to fix it up. It jumps from year to year very quickly, as Meyer and his team decide on chefs, and staff, and menus and decor and so forth. Eventually, the restaurants open, and people eat there, and they get reviewed by the New York Times and…that’s about it.
Throughout the film, Meyer keeps talking about how difficult it is to find good people to hire in the current economy – it’s booming so much that everyone is working, and it’s tough just to get construction workers to build the place. All I could think was that when the economy went in the tank in 2008, his restaurants must have gone with it. After all, who goes to a $300-a-night restaurant when they have no job? It turns out I was right – although I had to watch the half-hour epilogue in the special features to find out exactly what happened.
In the meantime, I got just about nothing out of the movie itself. It’s a lot of Meyer standing in vast empty spaces, talking with contractors about things that I didn’t understand and that were never explained to me. I could barely hear him for the first half of the movie, as the sound was echoing around the empty building and the words were very difficult to make out. And the rest of the time, the technical talk was often incomprehensible. This documentary cries out for a narrator!
I am likely not the target audience for this movie. I love to cook (and I did take away some ideas for watermelon recipes from the top chef at Tabla), but I have no desire to own a restaurant. I suppose if I DID want to open a restaurant, I might get something out of this. In that it’s a cursory glimpse into the world of high-end restaurant ownership. The way if I was a welder, I might get something out of a how-to welding video. But as an average person with no fine-dining aspirations, I found little to sink my teeth into in this documentary.