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David Chang Says Ugly Delicious Helped Make His Restaurants ‘Busier Than Ever’

The Momofuku and Majordomo chef sits down with Eater’s Amanda Kludt at Code Conference

David Chang at Code Conference 2018
Asa Mathat for Vox Media
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Yesterday afternoon David Chang sat down with Recode’s Peter Kafka and Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt at the annual Code Conference to discuss the business aspects of the restaurant industry, the #MeToo movement, and Chang’s foray back into food media. The first part of the discussion revolved around balancing creativity and expansion, something Chang himself never knew he would have to focus on as his career progressed.

“I’m the worst business person you’ve ever met,” he stated, while answering questions from Kafka and Kludt about how he’s managed to build a 1000-plus employee restaurant group with over twenty locations spread across cities like New York City, Toronto, Sydney, Las Vegas, and most recently Los Angeles with Majordomo. Chang elaborated on his inexperience in business and the balancing act it takes to grow a restaurant empire while maintaining a culture of creativity. It seemed that a lot of his motivation to grow and produce various concepts like the rapidly expanding fried chicken restaurant Fuku was a desire to do it better than say, Chick-Fil-A.

Beyond scaling restaurants, Chang delved into the challenges of balancing what was traditionally considered “blue collar” labor into more of “white collar” environment. Kakfa and Kludt pressed Chang on what that exactly meant, and he summed it up by saying that there’s a lag in restaurants in professionalizing the work, offering things like benefits, HR, mandatory breaks, and career growth.

Then the discussion inevitably went to the #MeToo movement. In response to allegations against restaurateurs like Mario Batali and Ken Friedman, Chang said, “We need to figure out how to make this better. Our goal [at Momofuku] was to make a best-in-class business with a thoughtful culture.” And pushing that culture, along with its ideals, was one of the reasons why Chang launched another media company.

Recode’s Peter Kafka, Eater’s Amanda Kludt, and David Chang
Recode’s Peter Kafka, Eater’s Amanda Kludt, and David Chang at Code Conference 2018
Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Chang was a co-founder of Lucky Peach magazine before it folded last year. When asked why he started Majordomo Media, which comes after the premiere of his Netflix show Ugly Delicious, he said it was also about diversifying the business. Chang also launched a podcast with The Ringer called The Dave Chang Show, which has gone into depth about how Majordomo restaurant came together in Los Angeles.

Chang said, “Look at someone like Wolfgang Puck. He’s created a giant business of everything related to food, from [consumer packaged goods] to pots and pans to frozen pizzas to catering.” With a new media company, Chang says he can create new content and tell stories that aren’t being told.

There’s also the financial benefit of diversifying the business, in which Chang said, “If the media takes off, that’s more stuff we can bring back to the restaurants.” And the outcome of some of Chang’s recent media work, like Ugly Delicious? Here’s what he had to say about how it’s affected the restaurants: “The story goes is that you’re expected to see a dramatic bump, even in restaurants that are already busy...even though the show doesn’t promote Momofuku, we’re just busier than ever because of it.”

It’s no wonder that reservations at Majordomo, which holds a spot on the Eater LA heatmap, are some of the hardest to obtain in Los Angeles right now. Tables are booked more than a month out and numerous walk-in diners wait to nab a bar seat even before the restaurant opens.

David Chang at Code Conference 2018