A Sad Day for Asian-American Cuisine: Momofuku Closes Two Restaurants

May 19, 2020 | AA, BIZ, NEWS, POP, TASTE, US

The brainchild of one of the most talented and innovative chefs in the world, Momofuku is one of the most successful restaurants in the US. However, they are not exempt from the adverse effects of COVID-19. David Chang shares his thoughts on the recent restaurant closures. 

When Momofuku opened in 2004, it instantly made headlines. The restaurant, which means “lucky peach” turned out to be unlucky the past few months as two of their locations, CCDC and Nishi, have permanently closed its doors.

Momofuku: The Gateway to Asian-American Cuisine

The opening of Momofuku Noodle Bar more than 16 years ago signaled one thing – the rise of modern Asian-American cuisine. Named by Bon Appetit magazine as the most important restaurant in America, it comes as no surprise that Momofuku became the favorite of thousands of foodies. 

The restaurant has also garnered worldwide recognition for its unique take on cuisine – all while helping responsible food purveyors and farmers. In the past years, it has opened branches in Canada, Australia, and other parts of the US. 

Momofuku founder David Chang is undeniably one of the most influential Asian chefs today. With his cookbooks and Netflix shows, the innovative chef has become a major driving force of the Asian-American culinary scene.

Momofuku’s Struggle

But even if he has reached household name status, Momofuku was still hit hard by the financial repercussions of COVID-19. The monetary losses of the restaurants have accumulated during its extended closure, and after “negotiating with our landlords, changing the service model, and more,” the restaurant stated that “increased investments in health and safety, huge reopening expenses, and the lack of rent relief” made way for the unfortunate decision.  

“CCDC was Dave’s hometown restaurant, and at Nishi, we learned how to face extremely difficult challenges together,” shared Momofuku’s Instagram page. 

While this news may come as a shock to diners who were used to seeing full occupancy at the restaurant, Chang already shared his vision last March that without serious government intervention, the restaurant industry is set to crumble. 

Unfortunately, this narrative is now the new norm. More than ever, people are saying goodbye to their favorite small independent restaurants.

David Chang at Future of Food ©World Bank

David Chang at Future of Food ©World Bank

Some Good News

Despite this, there seems to be good news for Momofuku fans. Chang will be moving the 15-year-old Ssam Bar to Bar Wayo in the South Street Seaport from the East Village, and he assures that the staff of both restaurants will be merged into one team.  

While some employees have been laid off and others are dealing with reduced salaries, the restaurant group has found a way to support their staff through the Momofuku Bluetape Fund.  

“The lessons and memories from these restaurants will always be a part of Momofuku. These teams will continue to be supported by the Momofuku Bluetape Fund through this crisis, and Momofuku is committed to paying the costs of Cobra Medical Insurance coverage.” 

What’s in Store for Momofuku?

It’s hard to believe that despite its loyal customers and cult following – Momofuku and Milk Bar, two of Chang’s restaurants with a rich history of experimentation won’t be enjoyed by diners again.  

“From the beginning, the restaurant community has been warning people that there are going to be massive closures; it’s going to get bleak before it gets better,” said Chang in his podcast.  

This event just proves that in a way, a company’s size won’t protect it from challenges. While it’s hard to look at the future with stars in our eyes, restaurant closures have taught restaurateurs a lesson: Being vulnerable again is not an option, and operating as if there’s no help coming is integral. There are no excuses.   

“The question we’ve been asking ourselves over and over and over again is: What does Momofuku look like in 2035? Except we have to make that evolution now and not wait and change here and there in a linear fashion,” added Chang.  

As more defining restaurants fold up, the future of the restaurant industry may look bleak, but there are signs that it’s bound to get better.