American restaurateur Danny Meyer has spoken of “sparks of life” in New York, as shanty town shacks pop up to serve customers from the kerbside.

The influential operator and author, whose Union Square Hospitality launched Shake Shack, was speaking at the Peach Digital Conference.

Despite only having three out of 12 New York restaurants open, he told the conference of his optimism for recovery, but also warned of the “tall slope” to achieve this.

Having cut 90% of his workforce in March, Meyer said reassembling his company would be like starting from scratch, and acknowledged his collection would not emerge fully intact.

Meyer, who was in conversation with Peach founder Peter Martin and Hawksmoor CEO Will Beckett, spoke of his frustration at not being able to do what the industry does best.

Asked about the situation in New York City, he said: “It’s not great… Unfortunately we just cannot do what we’ve done our entire lives

“We’ve been taught that if you just use your head a little bit and work a little bit harder, that you can generally get some good luck. I guess you can generally solve almost any problem, but we cannot outrace this virus, we’re not allowed to open beyond the capacity levels that New York City in New York State allow us.

“In many ways that reinforces what I love about our industry, because no one ever got into this industry because it was easy. We are a bunch of entrepreneurs who really believe that when you make people feel better you can help the world feel better.”

Meyer spoke of the ways restaurateurs were continuing to trade in the face of 25% capacity restrictions on indoor dining in the city.

He said: “I see people trying so hard to do anything, we flex all of our entrepreneurial muscles with takeout, kerbside service, selling wine and groceries out the door, sidewalk dining in very cold with heaters on the street. New York looks like a shanty town of outdoor dining shacks right now. Everybody’s trying and I appreciate that.

“But the greatest thing about this industry is how we bring people together, and that’s the very thing that doesn’t work in a pandemic. It’s very frustrating to have your hands tied, and not be able to do the thing that you really love doing.”

He said with the city mayor primarily concerned with safety, and the federal government pre-occupied with the election and transition to a new administration, there was little support for the industry.

Many residents have left the city to second homes, offices are virtually empty and there is no tourism, Meyer said, though pop-up restaurants on the street were giving New Yorkers a reason to return though.

He said: “If there’s one spark of life that the city has seen it is these shanty towns shacks all popping up all over the city, and that has given both a sense of safety and life spark.

“That in and of itself I think has encouraged some people to come back to the city.”

On the prospects for this restaurants business, he said not all of his venues would likely reopen.

He added: “Having had to face the worst professional day of my life, and lay off about 90% of our company at the end of March, when we do come back, they’ll be very different teams. It’ll be like opening a brand new restaurant from scratch because, frankly, we don’t have all of our chefs and general managers intact. I don’t have any idea where all of the service staff went or where all the cooks are gone. Maybe they’ve left New York for good. It’s not like a football team where you have everybody on contract and you just have to say, we can get back into action come back now.

“it’s a very tall slope that we’re all on, and I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic long term for New York City, because it’s an irrepressible spirit in that city, it’s never been an easy place to live, it’s always attracted people trying to accomplish something for a greater purpose.

“But I think the landscape is going to look a lot different because a hell of a lot of leaves have blown off the trees, and so whatever grows over the next couple of years, is going to be very different and very new.”