Ko, the Momofuku restaurant group’s fine-dining flagship, will close on November 4, the staff learned during an all-hands meeting this afternoon. Attendance at the meeting was mandatory, which had struck some employees as odd; when David Chang showed up, one worker says, they knew it meant bad news.
During the meeting, Chang eulogized the restaurant and spoke about its larger importance within the restaurant ecosystem: “The funny thing is — I don’t even know if you guys know this — we never even wanted to have a fancy restaurant. The original version of Ko was a $75 tasting menu,” he said. “I didn’t open Momofuku to get glory or to have a sommelier — all these things we ended up having.”
One employee told me that the working environment inside the restaurant had been tense since Ssäm Bar closed earlier this month and that some recent events — including at least one senior employee’s leaving without any notice — led to a lingering suspicion that Ko’s days were numbered as well. (Nevertheless, a separate employee wrote after the meeting to express frustration that they weren’t given more official notice.) During the meeting, Chang reassured staff the closing isn’t their fault and that the company is considering other possibilities for the space. “There’s nothing the restaurant has done wrong,” he said. “I think part of it is ending things on a high note.” Instead, he attributed the move to a sea change that has taken place in diners’ tastes since Ko’s debut.
After it opened in 2009 in its original location on First Avenue, Ko went on to become one of New York’s most celebrated fine-dining destinations, appreciated as much for the creativity of its food — the earliest menu included a poached egg that appeared to ooze caviar along with its yolk, as well as pastry chef Christina Tosi’s riff on McDonald’s fried pies for dessert — as for its embrace of a dining-counter format, similarly rare in those days at non-Japanese establishments. Ko also pioneered now-ubiquitous online-reservation systems, much to the chagrin of critics who tried to eat there in its early days. Ko moved to its current space in 2014, a noticeable upgrade in facilities. Chang & Co. nevertheless stuck to the original tasting-counter format, earning raves yet again for the restaurant’s evolution into a more mature version of itself.
After the news broke, Momofuku shared a statement echoing Chang’s comments to staff that “the culinary world is much different than it was 20 years ago” and that “our restaurants remain the beating heart of Momkofuku.”
At Ko today, James Parry, the VP of restaurant operations for Momofuku, emphasized the importance of closing Ko on the group’s own terms and finishing strong during its last two weeks: “Let’s really say good-bye the way we want to,” he told the assembled staffers.
This post has been updated to include a statement from Momofuku.