UPDATES FROM MOMOFUKU
WEDNESDAY, MAY 13
To our Momofuku teams,
I want to start by saying that I hope you and your families are safe. This crisis has been the hardest time in Momofuku’s history, and I’m writing today to share more hard news and to discuss what comes next. As I mentioned in my last note, I started here as an intern straight out of college and never left. Like many of you, I stuck around because of the people who work here. You are the heart of our company, and you deserve a clear explanation of the changes that we’re making, why we’re making them, and what our vision for the future is.
After significant deliberation, we have had to make the extremely difficult decision to permanently close Nishi and CCDC. In addition, we are planning to move Ssäm Bar to the Wayō space at South Street Seaport, where we will combine both teams.
I’ll elaborate on the Ssäm Bar transition and our greater goals later in this message, but first I want to recognize the teams at Nishi and CCDC. These restaurants simply would not have found their footing without the people who worked there. CCDC was Dave’s hometown project; when it opened five years ago, it was the biggest Momofuku restaurant to date, and it showed us what was possible for our company. At Nishi, we served everything from Impossible Burgers to ceci e pepe — but more than that, it was where we faced unexpected challenges and learned how to overcome them. In circumstances where most other restaurants would falter, we succeeded. I wish we could have continued writing those stories.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for rising to the occasion time and time again.
How we reached the decision
Momofuku’s guiding principle has always been that “what got us here, won’t get us there.” Now more than ever, it is essential. This crisis has exposed the underlying vulnerabilities of our industry and made clear that returning to normal is not an option. For our industry to have a future, we must do nothing less than rethink how restaurants operate.
From the onset of the crisis, our greatest concern has been safety. It is why we did not open for takeout or delivery. As I’ve said before, I simply could not stomach the idea of someone getting sick from coming to work. The investments we need to make to safely resume operations—from developing new, best-in-class systems to providing personal protective equipment—are significant.
The situation has required us to assess each of our restaurants and their financial viability.
All restaurants operate on razor-thin margins, but some are thinner than others. In the case of Nishi and CCDC, the margins were particularly challenging. Thanks to the tireless and creative work of their teams, Nishi and CCDC underwent many iterations—renovations, menu overhauls, service changes—on the path to profitability.
But as we looked at new realities, neither restaurant had enough cushion to sustain the shock of this crisis. We investigated every scenario to make the math work—negotiating with our landlords, changing the service model, and more—but with increased investments in health and safety, huge reopening expenses, and the lack of rent relief, the financial picture of these wholly-owned restaurants no longer made sense.
What this means for our teams
It breaks my heart to close Nishi and CCDC. I know it’s hard for our team members to process the fact that they won’t return to their restaurant when this crisis is over. We are losing teammates that we love and value. In New York we hope to hire Nishi team members at our other restaurants; in DC, we are looking into more initiatives to ease this transition.
For our teams at Nishi and CCDC, I want to assure you that you still have access to the following resources that are available to all of our employees affected by this crisis:
- The Momofuku Bluetape Fund – I’m grateful to the Momofuku community for supporting our new nonprofit. To date, we’ve been able to distribute nearly $400,000 in aid to our teams, and we have additional fundraising initiatives rolling out soon. If you are already signed up for this fund, you are automatically enrolled in the May and June distributions.
- Healthcare – We’ve worked hard to extend coverage for our team members who get their healthcare through Momofuku. We are covering COBRA medical insurance payments as long as financially possible. Human Resources is reaching out to all team members who are eligible for COBRA. If you have questions you can always reach out to HR.
- Counseling Resources – You will still have access to our mental health, legal, and financial counseling resources via our Employee Assistance Program.
How we’re thinking about the future
I will be honest: we don’t have all the answers that will get us through this crisis. We are writing the rules in real time and there will be much to learn along the way. The world has changed forever, and Momofuku needs to change with it.
In a little more than two years, we doubled the number of restaurants in our company. Not only that: most of these were completely new concepts. While this was a thrilling period, it wasn’t sustainable. When I became CEO a year ago, I understood that Momofuku’s growth meant more than opening new restaurants.
This crisis has crystalized the new strategy we had been working on since then: strengthening existing restaurants, growing sustainably, and developing ways to experience Momofuku beyond the walls of our restaurants.
It’s my hope that these changes allow for a more nimble Momofuku that is better able to respond to future challenges and take even better care of our teams.
Strengthening existing restaurants
We will work hard to make sure our restaurants are the safest places to dine and work. In order to do this, we need to consolidate our footprint and dedicate more resources to each operation.
As part of this streamlining, we have decided to move Ssäm Bar from the East Village to Wayō’s much larger space at South Street Seaport and combine the teams of both restaurants. We loved what we created with Wayō, but we have to focus on our restaurants with the most potential. It would be hard to think of a better candidate than Ssäm Bar. Its lease expires in January 2021 and over the last fifteen years has probably changed more radically than any other restaurant of its kind—and thrived in the process.
With more space for guests, multiple entrances, and a new kitchen, Ssäm Bar at the Seaport is better suited to the new realities of restaurants. Not only that, we’re also excited to incorporate elements of Wayo’s menu and service into the new Ssäm Bar. With tabletop cooking and karaoke rooms, the new restaurant will carry on Ssäm Bar’s legacy and celebratory spirit. And don’t worry, John McEnroe is coming with. We are still working on sorting out the details and will share more as we develop the project.
We are not giving up on growth. We have faith in the future of our industry and believe in creating more opportunities for our employees. That said, growth needs to be carried out sustainably. We’ve made the hard decisions with this in mind: we had no plans to open another restaurant on the East Coast outside of New York. And with New York as the epicenter of this crisis, we need to consolidate our resources there to strengthen our most stable restaurants.
As we streamline our businesses on the East Coast, we are excited to continue working with partners on the West Coast and Canada to create growth opportunities for the teams we have built there.
We will also continue to develop more Noodle Bars. As our concept most fit for standardization, we believe Noodle Bar has the ability to succeed in a world where more stringent procedures are the norm. We are looking forward to our next location in Vancouver.
Bringing Momofuku flavors home
For over a year we’ve been working to expand the ways people can experience Momofuku. As a company that strives to build community through food, this has always been a path that makes sense for us. Now, people are cooking at home more than ever before, our small remaining team is accelerating the development of products that bring Momofuku to home cooks.
We are starting by restocking our Seasoned Salts soon. Later in May we are launching Chili Crunch, and this summer we’ll be introducing liquids like soy and tamari. A portion of proceeds from the sale of these products will go to the Momofuku Bluetape Fund while our restaurants are closed.
I want to say thank you again to the teams at Nishi and CCDC. Please know that the decision to close is in no way a reflection of the work you have put in. We are grateful and proud of your efforts. Momofuku would not be what it is today without your contributions.
The past few months have been incredibly challenging for everyone and there is still much work to be done. As we move forward, I will continue to share updates about our plans and progress. We are far from the finish line, but we must remain focused and hopeful about the future.
I’ve been heartened to see the way our industry has come together to fight for much-needed and long-overdue changes. Dave and I have been speaking to leaders in our industry and lawmakers, trying to advocate for our industry and the people who make it so great.
While it’s true that what got us here won’t get us there, my belief in the scrappy, passionate, hard-working people who make up our industry remains unchanged. We will figure this out. Onward.
FRIDAY, MARCH 20
Today, we are starting a Momofuku Employee Relief Fund. 100 percent of proceeds will go directly toward supporting our teams who need immediate relief as we navigate this crisis. For those who are able, we ask that you consider donating. We are working on more ways in the coming days to raise additional funds.
From day one, the idea of Momofuku has been simple: to take the most humble meal — a bowl of noodles, a pork bun — and through obsessive devotion and technique, turn it into something amazing. As simple as the idea is, the work has not been easy. Since 2004, it’s taken a lot of talented people to get us where we are.
We have been incredibly fortunate to count on the support of our communities over the past 15 years. And we are turning to our communities now for a different type of support to help the teams who have made Momofuku what it is. We are determined to get back to doing what we love — serving our teams and our communities — as soon as it is safe to do so. We will need many courageous and generous people to help us get there.
THURSDAY, MARCH 19
Starting March 23, Momofuku Seiōbo will be closed until further notice.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18
Momofuku Las Vegas, Majordōmo Meat & Fish, and Moon Palace are closed until further notice.
MONDAY, MARCH 16
Momofuku Toronto is now closed until further notice.
SATURDAY, MARCH 14
As of today, Momofuku’s restaurants in New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles are closed until further notice. We are taking this measure in accordance with local, state, and federal health recommendations. We believe it is in the best interest of the wellbeing of our teams, our community, and the world at large. We are closely monitoring the situation in Las Vegas, Sydney, and Toronto and will take appropriate action with our partners should circumstances change.
This is unquestionably the most difficult moment in Momofuku’s history. The severity of the COVID-19 crisis has put our business and community in completely uncharted territory. Our company is built on the belief that there is great power in bringing people together over food, but in this extraordinary time, we must prioritize the safety of our guests and staff. We are determined to get back to doing what we love as soon as it is safe to do so.
We are making hard decisions across the company to ensure that once we get through this crisis, there is a Momofuku to return to. While closed, all salaried employees (corporate office and affected restaurant teams) will take a reduction in pay. All hourly employees at affected restaurants will be paid through March 20. Hourly employees at these restaurants who have dedicated 5+ years to Momofuku will be paid through April 3. And all affected hourly employees who are currently enrolled in health insurance will retain access through April 30.
The road ahead is difficult and uncertain, but we will do everything we can to ensure the future of Momofuku and everyone who makes this company what it is. Momofuku will do all we can to support those affected who do not have health insurance and need assistance related to the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19. And we will support everyone with continued access to our mental health, legal, and financial counseling resources via our Employee Assistance Program.