It’s been almost five years since Hapa Ramen, a hotly anticipated pop-up turned Mission District restaurant, flamed out after its investors fired its founder, Richie Nakano. Since then, Nakano has appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, consulted for boldfaced names like Delfina Restaurant Group and SF chef Daniel Patterson’s empire, and started a second act at restaurant recommendation site ChefsFeed.
In an interview with Oakland journo Maria Bustillos, published Monday by Medium politics site Gen, Nakano carries on with his traditional candor (an honesty that prompted this site to brand him a “noted culinary sassmouth” back in 2014). Here are 11 of Nakano’s most provocative remarks from the piece.
- On restaurants that employ buzzwords like “seasonal” and “local”: “I was eating at a restaurant on Sunday, and they gave this whole spiel: ‘We’re local and organic, and we only serve what’s in season.’ And they weren’t. They were serving summer produce, and so all this shit — they just use the right words so people will say, ‘Oh, yeah, great, you guys are doing the right thing.’”
- On San Francisco’s looming restaurant rent apocalypse: “A restaurant that signed a lease in 2010 is going to be up for renegotiation in 2020, right? And what’s gonna happen to those restaurants that have been there for 10 years and maybe are doing well but are now going to see a 30% rent increase?”
- On SF diners’ allegedly inconsistent value perception: “People are fine paying $14 for a cocktail that’s like 10 ounces. Or they’re fine paying $4 for a coffee, but they don’t want to pay $12 for a sandwich.”
- On restaurants in the post-#MeToo era: “You hear from chefs, they’re like, ‘It’s not like how it used to be. Cooks today are too soft. They’re too sensitive,’ and all this shit. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean things were better when it was all, like, towel-whipping each other in the kitchen and dick jokes all the time.”
- On Silicon Valley denizens who invest in restaurants: “Many Silicon Valley investors get a ton of money and decide they want to have a vanity restaurant. So many dudes [are] like, ‘I just want a place so I can go hang out.’ And you’re like, ‘Fuck off.’”
- On investing in restaurants in general: “What a great way to throw away a giant pile of money. Like, just throw it out on the street.”
- On what Nakano alleges was Hapa investor Owen Van Natta’s ultimate plan for the spot: “It turned out he didn’t want to open restaurants. He had another project planned — a food mall–type thing in a huge building on the corner of 18th and Mission that’s been vacant forever. I came to learn that his real plan was to buy up everything on that block so he could basically run out the leases on everything and then put in condos.”
- On how Nakano’s firing from Hapa went down: “The investor had this real tough-guy meeting with me where he was like, ‘I’ll fucking ruin your career,’ and all this stuff. ‘You’re going to sign this NDA and blah blah blah.’ One of my biggest regrets is not recording that conversation, because it would have been amazing.”
- On the rising trend of cloud kitchens as delivery food providers: “The 25-year-old tech dude who just moved to San Francisco and is making 200 grand a year, do they even know the difference between the shitty cloud kitchen they order their burrito from and the taqueria down the street that just closed down because they can’t afford to operate? And do they care?”
- On San Francisco’s tech community: “These dudes go to work, and there’s a cafeteria there, so they eat at work. They don’t go out in the community and walk around, and they think homeless people are disgusting and this big nuisance, and they go home at the end of the day and sit on their computer and order delivery. What a fucking way to live.”
- ...and what that community is, in his opinion, missing out on: “That’s what fucks me about San Francisco: It’s a really cool city, and it’s filled with fucking dorks now and people who don’t go out and enjoy how great it is to go out and eat in restaurants. It’s a really nice experience. It’s good to sit in a dining room and be waited on.”
Read the whole interview on Gen here.