From culture shock to a non-existent coat rack, David Chang's first year in Toronto sucked the big one. The arrival of the superstar chef's Momofuku chain was supposed to enjoy one long victory lap after another. As Chang told the Toronto Star: "It felt like we could do lots of millions of dollars." The feeling was short-lived.
The problems for the first three restaurants (Noodle Bar, Daisho, Shoto, and now Milk Bar and Nikai), spread across a 6,600 square foot space, started small but grew into a din that couldn't be ignored: Customers loudly scoffed at the high prices, wanted desserts at the Noodle Bar, mocked the bland interior design, and simply stopped going when the temperature dipped below zero. And then, there was the absence of a coat rack that rankled customers and staff alike. As executive chef Sam Gelman says: "It was a pain in the ass."
Chang – known for his erratic and hotheaded perfectionism – started to take the negative commentary personally. Toronto was "out to get him," but with no serious roadmap, he had created the chaos. So he went into default mode: "Go hard, stop at nothing, and react to problems as they arise." And perhaps, most importantly, he listened closely to his customers and started to collaborate with local restaurants and chefs. After that, the mood improved dramatically.
A year in, Chang says "it was the hardest thing I've ever done without a doubt. It was like the myth of Sisyphus. The boulder got heavier and larger every week. But if our track record has proven anything, it's going to turn out. Nothing happens overnight, so come back and ask us again in two years." It seems that Toronto is no longer out to get him.
· Inside Momofuku Toronto's tumultuous first year [Toronto Star]