On Thursday, star chef and Momofuku founder Dave Chang launched his new podcast, The Dave Chang Show, where he’ll be sharing his thoughts on the culinary world and much more. In the show’s inaugural episode, Chang describes to Bill Simmons the three biggest factors that go into choosing a restaurant location, and how he considered those when selecting the space for his new L.A. project, Majordomo.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Bill Simmons: So you’ve been thinking about [Majordomo’s location] for what, three and a half years?
Dave Chang: We signed [the lease] about three and a half years ago.
Simmons: So you knew where you were going to be—you’re in a part [of Los Angeles] that’s past Chinatown.
Chang: We’re in north Chinatown, near Dodger Stadium. … I remember seeing it and being like, “Wow, that is crazy. This is a crazy raw space.” And I remember [looking at] downtown locations like seven, eight years ago.
Simmons: When people were saying downtown was taking off.
Chang: This is even before a lot of that stuff. This is pre-Bestia. And I was like, “No one is ever going to come down here. This is just insane.”
Simmons: You didn’t know about Uber yet, though.
Chang: I didn’t think that Uber was going to completely alter Los Angeles. No city has been altered more by ridesharing than Los Angeles. People drink, people [will] go anywhere now because of that. And I remember thinking, “I feel like such a dope for not expanding to downtown L.A. … I’m not going to do that again.”
And it’s not just about—I don’t want to be a part of a gentrifying movement. It’s just about, how do we do something awesome that adds to the awesomeness? So we’ve looked at a lot of spaces, and we’ve been looking at L.A. for, oh my god, since 2006. We’ve had some very near misses—we almost opened up near some famous properties in the Hollywood area.
Simmons: What are you looking for when you’re thinking, “I’m going to L.A.” Rank the top three things you want, from location to competitors. How do you survey it?
Chang: I mean in L.A., I think you need something iconic about the space. There’s a sense of time and place that is important. So when we were going to open up, that was the first thing I always thought about. It has to have a location that is meaningful.
Simmons: What makes it meaningful?
Chang: There’s got to be something different about it.
Simmons: Like Bestia, when I first went there I was like, “I didn’t even know this area was here. This is cool.” It felt like more of an experience than just walking into a restaurant.
Chang: That’s what L.A. to me is as I discover more and more about it. It’s these pockets of buildings and architecture that could only exist in that specific area, even though it might not make any sense.
And then, is it accessible? I remember years ago, I didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t drop me off at my hotel because it was in the other direction. Now I get it—it’s like, “I’m sorry, man, I’m not going to drop you off.” That was something that I didn’t understand then. I have much better understanding now, because this is a sprawling suburbs-like city where if you’re on Santa Monica, you’re really never going to leave that area of Santa Monica.
Simmons: It’s pockets.
Chang: It’s pockets. So it made me think, if you’re going to create a concept or restaurant in that location, how do you create something that is going to be compelling enough that people will leave their comfort zone?
Simmons: And that gets tougher and tougher in the Postmates era. It’s tougher and tougher to get people to go more than 20 minutes anywhere.
Chang: And that sort of goes back into that first [point] about having that iconic location. I think one of the great locations for a restaurant was the old République space, [Campanile]. … Charlie Chaplin’s office. It’s so cool and it’s got so much history and the fact that it’s a restaurant—it could only exist there, right?
Simmons: Well also, going back to your L.A. thing, that’s on La Brea right near Wilshire. It’s 20 minutes from seven different places: Hollywood Hills is 20 minutes, Beverly Hills is 20 minutes, Hancock Park is 10 minutes, downtown L.A. is 20 minutes. Those were the [restaurants] that usually seem to make it in L.A.
Chang: So location’s important, and I think the third thing is: What kind of food are you going to make in that location, in that sort of iconic area?
Simmons: Do you feel like the customer [has to be able to] describe [the food] in a sentence? Or the customer will tell a friend, “The food’s great, just go there.” Does it have to have like a brand, I guess is my point.
Chang: Yes, I can expound upon this much more. It’s important that you’re able to explain what you’re doing in a sentence or two sentences tops. I still haven’t figured out how to do that with the food we’re doing at Majordomo.
Simmons: Do it with Momofuku.
Chang: I still don’t know how to explain the food at Momofuku, after all these years. Because I hate it when people are like, “Oh, you just make Asian food.” I’m always like, “Fuck you.” It makes me so upset. But if someone asks me and they’re not in the food world, I oftentimes say, “Oh we just make something that’s Asian.” And then they go, “Oh, do you make sushi?” And I’m like, “No, not really.” So I think Momofuku has always been something that is Asian American sometimes, sometimes more American. …
I think the best way [to answer] when someone says, “Hey, what kind of food are you serving?” or your friend goes to you and says, “Hey, let’s go out to dinner Thursday night. Where do you want to go?” Let’s say we want to go to Majordomo. They’re like, “What do they serve?” It’s like, “It’s hard to describe, but you want to go. It’s awesome. I don’t know how to talk about it. It’s awesome.” You don’t hear restaurants described like that too much, right? It has to fit into a certain kind of category.
Simmons: I would say the one strike against you, potentially in L.A., is that people don’t know who you are.
Chang: It’s possible.
Simmons: People know who you are, but also, on the East Coast if you did this, everyone would know who you are.
Chang: I think that comes with pros and cons. You have to live up to some kind of legacy— and I thought about this restaurant opening for a long time. You don’t want to open up something you could get somewhere else in L.A., because food in L.A. is so great right now. You want to be a good neighbor, but you also want to add value. You don’t want to just do the same thing someone could get in another part of town.
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