On we go with The Gatekeepers, a photo series we've commissioned from Michael Harlan Turkell. For the next several weeks, we'll be presenting portraits of The Gatekeepers: the very folks that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Momofuku is frequented by a mix of devoted regulars and thrill-seekers, who have heard about David Chang's pork buns and ramen, either by word-of-mouth or from one of many articles written about the young chef. Waits are long, but so are the return customers: it's worth the wait.
From Left to right, Gakekeepers Sarah Vitale, Naz Yusufov, Ling Koh and Eugene Lee.
S: It can be an hour and half wait. If they go around the corner I’ll take their name. Last night a woman who came in months ago “remembers the sweetness” of a simple gesture. She even brought me back a trinket from her recent trip to Manila.
L: Tons of people drop names, mainly they say ‘David Chang’. We know of most of the “so-called” acquaintances, and check with someone working the line (cooking) to help identify the person if need be.
S: No one gets special treatment. No relatives of the staff are given preference. Even Martha Stewart had to wait.
N: Our customers are nice reasonable people. They have the advantage of not having to worry about making reservations. Sometimes we call a name, and people try and fake it. We say “Bob” and someone comes up and says,"I'm Bob" and we know they're not Bob because they just told us their name is Steve.
S: There’s a general sense of entitlement, people just mill about waiting for a seat, which doesn’t really work in such a small place. We have a list so people don’t have form a line, but say we tell them to comeback in 20 minutes, but don’t for 30 minutes we have to skip over them, but they aren’t forgotten. Though estimates can be unpredictable, they’re not far off.
L: It's all kind of like Tetris. You have to judge who will fit where and for what amount of time. People take different times to eat, and some linger.
N: The Kimchee Stew is the hardest to finish, and we know those that attempt it, will be sitting for a while.
N: Jimmy Fallon, David Cross, have come, but had to wait.
L: We all deal with our patrons differently. Sarah's the sweet one.
S: If anyone is the real nice one it's Naz, he's the air traffic controller.
N: Ling is the professional, and I'm the charmer.
E: I'm docile like a bunny.
Previously on The Gatekeepers: Iris Espinosa of Mary's Fish Camp; Ivilisse V. Esguerra of Mas; Mario Haro of Saul; the team at Spotted Pig; Joe Perret of Nobu; Ai Takami of Landmarc; Gabriel Stulman of The Little Owl; Mario Wainer of Le Cirque; Travis Lee Kaufman of Frankies; Erin Rogerson of Tia Pol.