What happened, part 1.

Im standing at the expo station as the clock nears 1am at Nopa. Corey is crouched eating a burger quietly, and Paulie and Ponder are starting to break down their mise. Paulie shoots me a look with his eyebrows raised--the kind of look that says "Fuck dude. That was a rough one." Ponder's usual jubilance is absent...possibly being weighed down by his soaked through chef coat and bandanna. Corey throws his arm around Ponder and shakes him, shouting "FUCK YEAH, DUDE! 500 COVERS!" not sounding completely convinced that hes actually excited about it. I turn to Paulie. "When we leave here Paulie, nothing will be hard ever again. There is nothing that any kitchen can throw at us after we've been through this. It almost makes me worried that anything we do after this will be too easy. We might get bored. We should quit now while we're ahead."

This will wind up being the dumbest thing I have ever said in my entire life.

Coming back from a vacation to New York, my head was spinning. I was being considered for a chefs job. Chef de cuisine. New York City. In a great restaurant. I immediately spoke to my current Chef about it, and woke up early for phone interviews, and sweated about impending tastings, and what it would mean to move across the country. I was nervous, and doubtful, but felt completely ready to take the next step. Then a week before everything was set to jump off, life intervened, and the whole thing fell through.
Standing with my Chef as he loads his car for an off-site event, I tell him the whole story, then mutter this:

"I think im gonna open a ramen spot."
"I think that's a good idea. Do you have a name?"
"Yeah. Im gonna call it Hapa Ramen."

I have planned poorly.

It's Wednesday, the day before our big farmers market debut. A month earlier I was getting my teeth kicked in at Coffee Bar, and im not going to re-cap it all over again here. The past month has been all about redemption, and planning, and building myself back up. But here, in this moment, as I prep by myself, (Victor is in school, Susanna and I have not met, and my other cook had to go to her stripper job. Seriously.) I realize that I am deeper in the weeds than I have ever been in my entire life. My last day at Nopa was Sunday, and there are several things that I have not taken into account:
  • cooking is easy. driving around picking up everything because you dont have proper accounts set up with vendors is really fucking hard
  • making 300 portions of noodles all by yourself takes a very, very long time.
  • fuck that. prepping for 300 covers all by yourself, no matter what it is, more or less sucks.
  • going out for tequila on monday was a mistake
  • strippers are less than reliable, especially when youre not paying them.
In the midst of all of my stress, and multi-tasking, La Cocina informs me that the kitchen will be closing at 5. It's Wednesday. They always close at 5 on Wednesday. They told me this. It was in my paperwork.

I. Am. Fucked.

As I calculate how many portions of noodles I can knock out per hour, and eye the case of snap peas that I havent even touched yet, and watch the clock inch towards 5, utter panic sets in. La Cocina agrees to let me stay until 6...then 7...then 8...but seriously dude, you HAVE to be out by 9. I pack up all of my noodle mise, and 5 hours later my home kitchen is covered in flour. I blanch snap peas and chard, and through kindness (and pity) Nopa allows me to store all of my prep in their walk-in for the night.

Nothing would ever be hard again? Seriously. What the fuck.

I drive home, and sleep for one hour. I'm not questioning the choices ive made, but as I lay down in bed, with my two month old son sleeping a few feet away, I do start to question my cooking ability, my intelligence, and how much easier it would have been to have just taken that well paying job in NYC. The first Hapa Ramen service starts in 5 hours.


Matt said...


I have been following your move from Nopa to Hapa Ramen, and it is inspirational. I know there is a lot of stuff you don't share in your twitter. Feed, but to observe the progress is invigorating. Moving the line, to ramen, then slowly adding items such as the sandwich. You are going to do well. Your foundation is solid, and your focus is evident.

Best Wishes
Matt Sievert

Sam said...

Nice to have you back. I look forward to the next chapter. I was looking through my honeymoon pictures yesterday and made me smile to see my bowl of hapa ramen. I think it was worth your efforts.

rkbrust said...


Yang said...


Rainier Wolfcastle said...

500 covers? 300 orders of handmade noodles single-handed?

You, sir, are a god. An insane masochistic wonderful shining god.

Tsia said...

who edited this piece? jk. nicely done, yo.

Barzelay said...

Yeah, dude. I still have to run around picking all my product up from the various vendors, driving around with my truck filled with coolers of meat and fish and veg, going from home to soma to golden gate meats, then pier 23 for monterey fish, then ferry building for mushrooms and produce, then down to greenleaf at the produce terminal, strategically stopping at del monte nearby, rainbow grocery on the way home because i forgot to pick up nuts or something... it's exhausting.

Cooking is the easy part.

Shit, I spend four or five hours a week just dealing with reservations (and mailing list subscriptions, and turning people away, and all that shit), and then another four or five hours laundering tablecloths and napkins and FOLDING napkins... not to mention popping melted candles out of candleholders, re-washing all the shit my dishwasher guy did a crappy job on... it's nuts. If I divide it up, it's definitely under $4/hour for my time. And I probably average 2-3 hours of sleep per night on weeks when I have dinners. Cooking is the easy part, and it's also the fun part.

Zalbar said...

Congrats bros.

nhallfreelance said...

Wait till that kid gets a little older. Children make great noodle monkeys.

Matt said...

Good to see another post!!

I've been following the blog for the past 2 years and anxiously await each post. Awesome, heartfelt writing about a subject you're evidently beyond passionate about.

Good on you for opening your own place as well! I'm sure it's going to kick ass.

don't touch my knife said...

Good to hear from you Nakano. Everything will surely fall into place with Hapa.

D&D said...

Loved this post.

HeatherinSF said...

So I have been enjoying - such a weak word - obsessing perhaps, your ramen and your broth since you started. Holy hell I hope you know that to your customers you're a ramen god, and that duck ramen this week was obscenely good. When you look back over all you have been through and how much hard work you do, please know there are legions of hungry people here like me who look forward to our ramen fix with increasing anticipation each day. And don't get me started on your pickles, and now your charcuterie. All I can say is thank you -again this seems weak - and I'll see you soon.

ila said...

i stumbled upon this post for the first time, and as a n--b cook who's still 'fresh in the biz', i'm going to say... holyfuckingballz. you sir, are the definition of EPIC.

jtberg1985 said...

I know exactly what you are talking about in controlled chaos. It is a great feeling being out of control and still in control. It is a great feeling at teh end of the night.

jtberg1985 said...

I know exactly what you are talking about with the controlled chaos. It is truely an amazing feel. i have just started following your blog and i hope that its not over. but it is good to see that there is someone else ou there that goes through the same shit I go through