In Momofuku Ko, The Full Reveal [via JK], hot NYC chef David Chang discusses changes in his restaurant empire and how his restaurants are a “spiritual home.” Although it’s foodie talk, a lot of the issues apply to all kinds of businesses, including those in the web sphere.
He talks about learning from mistakes (and how that gets harder to do once people are watching you)...
If we have learned anything, it’s that we’re terrible at opening restaurants and really good at making mistakes. We’re okay with that – learning from our mistakes has helped us grow as cooks and restaurant operators – but it’s harder to change and learn and grow when you’re constantly under a microscope.
Hype starts to obscure real value and distracts from the real task at hand…
Also, too much in the restaurant business is about hype right now. (I know we are lucky in that department and, trust me, we are thankful for the opportunities the attention has afforded us.) But chefs are not rock stars and are not cool. Restaurant openings are not movie premieres. All the bullshit distracts from the real task at hand – cooking – and from the food, which is what we’re in it for.
Sometimes you need to make fewer sales to keep things operating comfortably. And note how they also avoid setting hard and fast policies until absolutely necessary.
Noodle Bar as it exists right now is bursting at the seams. Not just with people waiting for a stool (sorry about the waits, but there’s good news ahead for you) but with water, electricity, everything. We need to do 200 fewer covers a day for that place to be operating comfortably. To do that, we need to take out a bunch of seats and control the number of people who eat there, which means taking reservations (or maybe taking reservations: part of the frustration with people blabbing about restaurants that don’t exist yet is that the restaurants don’t exist yet, so hard and fast policies are not in place.)
We have absolutely no aspiration to make it into a “fine dining” restaurant, but we’re shortchanging our baby, our spiritual home, by running it too hard right now. No mas.
Success brings both opportunities and distractions. Interviews, conferences, etc. provide exposure but they also mean you’re not doing the thing that got you there.
I’d like to be cooking more than I am right now, but I’m the asshole who runs around and answers the phone and poses for photographs with Martha Stewart now. Nobody else on my staff wants the job.
And Chang hates promising delivery dates, something we can relate to. Promising to launch something on a certain day just winds up giving people a reason to get pissed off.
Momofuku Noodle Bar will be moving up the block…How much did we want people not to talk about it? So much we came up with an alternate restaurant concept (We thought what’s less interesting than a sports bar opening?) and hung the menu in the windows of the space (right).
When will all this happen? This summer. When exactly? We have no idea. Honestly. Restaurant openings are notoriously tricky to predict the timing on. Trust me, when we’re ready, you’ll know.
What’s blown me away during my two trips to Chang’s Momofuku Ssam is the knowledge of the waitstaff. This is a place where you can get a decent meal for $10 (the Asian burritos) yet the servers can explain to you the intricacies of tripe, oysters, Tennessee hams, or the fact that sweetbread is not something yummy from a bakery (I’m quite thankful I asked). And they have the patience to do so. Pretty rare.