As restaurants around the country temporarily shutter in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, hoping to slow its spread, Momofuku is now the highest-profile group to close nationally. As of Saturday, every location in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, is closed “until further notice.” The group’s announcement goes on to say that 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.”
On Twitter, after describing the move to close as a “shitty choice all around. Fuck,” chef-founder David Chang then compared the choice to a “real life trolley problem”: Stay open and risk the health of the staff, their loved ones, and the community, or close and risk the livelihoods of the staff and the viability of the business itself.
Momofuku is paying all hourly employees through March 20, while hourly workers with more than five years at the company will be paid through April 3; health insurance will remain in place through April 30. Salaried employees, meanwhile, will take a reduction in pay as long as the restaurants remain closed.
Chang has further gone on to tweet a call for aid from the New York City and New York State government: “Restaurants are too small to fail. Please act quickly.”
In spite of ongoing closures in Las Vegas, Momofuku’s restaurants there remain open for now, as well as in Toronto and Sydney.
Chang follows a slew of other high-profile restaurateurs to temporarily close their businesses. José Andrés has just announced that he will close all of his D.C. and NYC restaurants, converting some into “community kitchens” providing to-go meals. In Seattle, Tom Douglas shuttered 12 of his 13 restaurants. In New York City, Danny Meyer closed all Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants. (Shake Shack, a separate company, is currently open.) And in Copenhagen, René Redzepi announced that Noma would be temporarily closing.
Until more cities issue mandatory shut downs, other restaurateurs must weight the same “shitty choice” and decide whether to stay open or to close.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.