One of the most exciting restaurants to open in Toronto in the last decade, and one that put us on the global map, appears to be gearing up to close its doors at the end of this year.
The first Canadian outpost of David Chang’s hugely successful Momofuku restaurant chain opened in Toronto back in 2012. And now, exactly ten years later, it looks as though it will be shutting down.
Notably absent from Toronto’s very first Michelin Guide released last week, it’s unlikely that the snub promulgated the move, but the long lockdowns and hardships brought on by the pandemic haven’t made things easy.
Our source, a longtime employee of the Toronto location who asked to remain anonymous, claims that this seems to have been in the works for some time. Stating that changes were noticed at the restaurant early in 2022.
“It very much looked like an operation that was shutting down,” the source tells blogTO. “Repairs weren’t happening, communication with head office was nonexistent. Folks [were] measuring the space for equipment.”
The source claims that a team of unknown people came to the restaurant in May to measure and photograph all three floors occupied by Momofuku in the Shangri-La Hotel. No explanations were given, but the source felt it was just one more step on the way to checking out.
“We watched these people come in and take measurements, watched the third floor struggle, watched fridges not get repaired. Morale was awful when I left.”
In an industry where openings and closings are de rigueur this news is notable for the fact that employees of the operation still have not been informed.
This is likely so that the restaurant can keep workers until the end of the year, which makes sense for the business, not so much for the staff. The ongoing labor shortage in the restaurant industry makes employees trained a precious resource for any dining operation.
“The problem is obviously that everybody might quit right now, because no one will be hiring in January,” explains the source, who left the operation in May, but is still connected to the crew that remains. “Because of low morale many long time staff have already left.”
blogTO reached out to Shangri-La, Westbank and Momofuku for comment.
Hans Vogels, was the Executive Chef at Momofuku Noodle Bar from opening day until this past June. He had this to say when he reached for comment.
“After ten years of working there I didn’t get a phone call, an email, I didn’t hear a thing from the company. I find it strange that there was no thank you. I didn’t expect a gold watch, but not even an email?
Vogels was one of only a handful of employees who have been with Chang’s empire for a decade. He claims that Chang has largely stepped aside.
“Dave would always say he’s just the guy in the gorilla suit, but the reality is that a lot of people went to work there because of him and his reputation and wanting to work with someone who was operating at such a high level. And he’s just not there anymore. Dave’s not home.”
During its run Momofuku gave this city some great talent – without it we wouldn’t have the neo Chinese cuisine of the Soy Luck Club, the shabby chic comfort food of Donna’s, not to mention Oji Seichi and Emmer Bakery.
Chang personally headhunted Eva Chin from Vancouver and brought her here to helm Kojin, the third floor space that never found its footing. Chin is now making waves in the East End at Avling Brewery and regularly sells out her Soy Luck Club pop-ups.
The last two years made for low morale across the restaurant industry, but Toronto’s record breaking lockdowns, longer than any other major North American city, meant that local restaurants were hit hardest.
Industry insiders are anticipating that the coming holiday season will be the busiest they’ve seen since 2019.
The source opined that Momofuku will likely stay in the space for the holiday season.
“Everyone knows how leases work, they don’t go in odd numbers. I was under the impression that we had a ten year lease and that’d be up now. I’m sure that Momo has an exit date. They’ll probably be allowed to do Christmas. [the new tenant] will move in in January, do a reno and reopen for springtime.” Adding, “If you had to write a restaurant takeover this is the perfect way to do it.”
And who might this new tenant be? Our source spoke to a group of investors last week who confirmed that Mott 32 will be taking over the space in the new year.
“I didn’t see any signed documents but they explicitly said that they’re going into the Momofuku space at the Shangri-La this January for an early spring opening.”
The fine dining chain out of Hong Kong has six locations, including Vegas, Vancouver and Singapore and has plans to open in Dubai and Cebu City.
Think elevated dim sum like Iberico Pork Shanghainese Soup Dumplings, Black Truffle Sui Mai and Hot-and-Sour Xiao Long Bao, or a $100 Peking duck cooked in a custom-built brick oven that needs to be ordered 48 hours in advance.
The place that helped Torontonians develop an appreciation for fried chicken topped with caviar, gave us our first ever taste of Shake Shack on home turf, and turned us into a city of ramen-heads might not be staying in its current location, but its influence will never be forgotten.