Many words have been spent discussing the situation at Hapa Ramen in the last few days, but walking by on Tuesday afternoon one solitary word faced Mission Street: “Closed.”
According to the Hapa’s curt outgoing voicemail message, the restaurant concept started by chef Richie Nakano now controlled by investor and former tech COO Owen Van Natta is “closed indefinitely.” The sign out front didn’t provide much more detail. The restaurant’s website is also currently down.
Accounts conflict about what exactly happened at the ramen shop that opened its brick-and-mortar just four months ago. Nakano says he was fired for not making a profit soon enough at the newly opened restaurant he started as a pop-up five years ago. Here is he in the first story published over the weekend on Inside Scoop:
“Their main concern was that the restaurant wasn’t making money, but it was barely four months in,” says Nakano, who says they asked him to change the menu to cut down on food costs and labor costs. “I said we can trim here and there, while we keep going in the right direction. But my food is my food, so to dumb it down or use not good ingredients — I can’t do that.”
According to a statement issued by Van Natta and director of operations Deborah Blum, the chef was not working with management and the split was mutual:
Nakano was not expected to make Hapa profitable in the course of four months’ time; the critical issue is that he refused to cooperate with management to acknowledge and remedy financial concerns and work with stakeholders to put Hapa on track toward profitability.
Unlike Nakano’s account, the management also say that no one else has been fired and that Hapa Ramen will just be shut down temporarily while the restaurant retools and comes up with a new concept. Nakano told the Bold Italic a very different story Monday:
I think [the owners] thought that they could just carry on with the business, brand, and [Ferry Plaza] farmers market,” Nakano says. “Then when the story broke they ultimately decided to just close it down completely. The staff was pretty upset so they worked one last night together, toasted to Hapa, and that was that.”
Nakano’s Instagram feed shows what he describes as Hapa staffers’ last night of service defiantly singing along to Big Sean’s “I don’t Give a Fuck.”
Van Natta, a former executive at Facebook, Amazon, and Zynga among other places, has other restaurant plans for the Mission. On 18th and Mission, Van Natta is the chief investor of the project that will contain a vegan restaurant called Citizen Fox and a brewery. Van Natta has has other restaurant endeavors in the Bay Area that haven’t gone exactly according to plan. A plan backed by the investor to open a restaurant in Menlo Park’s British Bankers Club fell apart in 2012 amid murky circumstances.
There’s obviously quite a bit to unpack in all of this and we’ll work to sort out the complexity. For now, read more takes at Inside Scoop, SFist, the Bold Italic, Eater.
I’m guessing the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude sank his chances when the money people were trying to work with him. It seems like he has a history of taking selfies of himself flipping off the camera, and generally being an ass to people.
It sucks that huge money is taking over the Mission, but I’m guessing this guy isn’t trying to make a fortune with an ambitious vegan restaurant. That seems more activism than profit grabbing. I’m guessing dude wants to ‘disrupt food systems’ or some kind of high-minded tech speak.