Tucked in among the maze of renovated warehouses that make up Industry City in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, past the secret Whole Foods, and next door to a building that houses the practice court for the Brooklyn Nets is a kitchen so rare it might just be a unicorn.
Spanning 33,000 square feet, the kitchen for Union Square Events, the catering and venue hospitality division of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, has everything a back-of-house employee and event professional dreams of and more.
The ingredients in the walk-ins are neatly sorted, organized, and labeled. There are multiple ovens, stoves, steam-jacketed kettles, and sinks. It has plenty of prep space, as well as special features like temperature-controlled butcher and pastry rooms, and a saw to cut pans of freshly baked pastries into single servings. There’s enough room to prepare everything from a small event to a 4,000-person gala.
Beyond the kitchen, there’s a research and development kitchen, a tasting room, and a 120-seat family room for Union Square Events staff.
During a tour, Anthony Mastellone, President of Union Square Events, navigates between the sections, greeting employees by name and with an enthusiastic fist bump.
“This is all geared towards elevating that workplace experience. We’re providing our workforce with everything they need for productivity and providing some joy,” he said.
“I think the high point for us as much as we’ve got this great kitchen, it’s the quality of life measures that we’re most proud of here. I feel like it creates differentiation for how we care for our folks. We’re getting the most out of all of our time here, making everyone feel cared for, and that’s been Danny’s philosophy from the get-go.”
It’s easy to feel the joy in this space, which opened in October 2021 after Union Square Events relocated from Hudson Yards, a collection of business, residential, and retail buildings on Manhattan’s west side. While Hudson Yards is a new development, space — as anyone who lives in or visits Manhattan can tell you — was at a minimum. The Union Square Events offices, kitchen, and storage were spread out on multiple floors, which isn’t efficient for a hospitality organization. Organizing deliveries was a nightmare.
In 2018 and 2019, the team researched and found the perfect location in Industry City in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. Industry City is a former 19th century industrial center overlooking New York Bay that’s become a center for tech, creative companies, restaurants, and retail.
“There was a search to find something that could provide one contiguous space, and Industry City has that in a wonderful, gentrified area with the floor plan we dreamt of,” Mastellone said.
Just as construction was about to begin in early 2020, COVID hit, and New York City went on lockdown.
“We had a really important decision to make as COVID hit, and the place was selected, and design was started,” Mastellone said. “We really worked through the pros and cons of moving forward and how to have a lot of confidence that we’re going to come out of this right, this huge project, in the middle of a pandemic, that no one could have ever imagined.
“We started construction during COVID, when there was literally no business, with the absolute confidence that our brand was beloved in the market. And that New York is going to battle back from this. And whether it takes two years or four years, there will be a resurgence. And we’ll continue with the strategic imperative to support the growth of the business. And here we are.”
The company manages Shake Shack-branded outlets for stadiums and arenas around the country as well as brands at Citi Field and Saratoga Race Course. In addition to this, Union Square events extends enlightened hospitality to several businesses, industry locations, and cultural venues in New York City. These include the Whitney Museum, Après at One Vanderbuilt, and Little Island. They also provide in-flight dining for Delta Air Lines’ Delta One customers and partner with Goldbelly on copacking opportunities. Special events are strong at the core for Union Square Events, which includes a long- term relationship with the Robin Hood foundation in New York City, which raises funds for anti-poverty programs.
“I think this space expands our offerings. The equipment we have allows for more flexibility from the kitchen. Whatever limitations there were before were alleviated,” Mastellone said. “The kitchen is a machine that keeps going, and we have dedicated areas like the office and the tasting rooms for clients. The clients feel cared for, they feel like they’ve got your undivided attention. It’s elevated what we could do internally and externally.”
Union Square Events is also a trendsetter in the hospitality industry by working as a consultant to help shape a client’s vision.
“It’s consulting and operations, where we’re building something for a client. We’re designing a space, amenities, food and beverage, and working on executive and client dining. Our role is to really help on whatever that core concept may be,” Mastellone said. “It could be elevating the surface experience and using some of the best practices and instilling our family values within those organizations. In many cases, they’re redesigning space and building from scratch. In some cases, it’s helping a brand that’s just being launched go to market.”
Mastellone doesn’t view this work as competition. It’s all about helping everyone in the industry achieve success.
“It’s about providing this preeminent hospitality experience. Everything we engage in is focused on the community, our clients, and who they serve. But it’s much more than events,” he said. “We did a good deal of consulting during COVID. We did an awful lot to help people in need during COVID, providing meals and providing services from our kitchen and helping people bring everything together.”
Is this the future of the hospitality industry? Will restaurant groups need to move beyond their individual properties and create companies like Union Square Events in order to grow their business opportunities? Absolutely, according to Mastellone.
“It’s got to be part of your business strategy and it’s got to be two very different business lines,” he said. “I think it’s challenging to do events out of restaurants because you may not have the proper facilities and you’re working from a core menu. We’ve seen a lot of restaurants now that focus on ecommerce. They’ve gotten on platforms like Goldbelly to get their brand out across the country. But events have to be part of your strategy. You take it to the next level when you create a space like this, with a kitchen dedicated to the events sector.”