Danny Meyer is a powerhouse New York City restaurant owner with an impressive resume of properties to his name. He’s a straight shooter, low to the ground, and demanding when it comes to the design and execution of his ideas. In 1998, Meyer faced a unique challenge: Opening two restaurants at virtually the same time, from construction to first service, hoping to create distinct dining experiences out of the same vast space.“The Restaurateur” is a short documentary (56 minutes in length) about a very large idea. Using an extensive amount of footage from 1998, director Roger Sherman endeavors to pull the viewer into the middle of the chaos, observing the ideas, frustrations, and anxiety that comes with such an immense task. Eschewing reality show invention and drama to play creation with pleasing frost, Sherman simply presents the arc of restaurant development, almost reluctant to explore any melodrama that arises along the way.
Meyer is the center of this documentary storm, and we watch as he works from dreamer (stomping around a cavernous building lobby near Madison Square Park) to boss over the course of 11 months, shaping the restaurants Tabla and Eleven Madison Park with assistance from friends and employees (including Tom Colicchio from “Top Chef”). The film takes in the construction effort, hiring phases, and distinctive culinary execution, summarizing a frantic atmosphere of delays and disappointments before everything seemingly falls into place. Sherman offers up the intensity dryly, using Meyer and his monotone to communicate the backstage emotions as the openings draw near. It’s not the most suspenseful documentary, but “The Restaurateur” manages a raw feel of business and preparation, exploring an extended time frame with fulfilling detail.Cruelly, Sherman doesn’t provide any footage from the restaurant openings, instead leaping forward to 2009 to quickly assess a decade of service, mistakes, and triumphs. The time leap is abrupt, but reinforces the specialty of the documentary, which never seems to be about food, despite a playground of culinary delights. “The Restaurateur” is business, plain and simple, popping the hood of fine dining to inspect the creative engine that drives the entire venture.