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David Chang Warns of Affordable Restaurant Apocalypse

Take cover in a food hall, because that’s the future he sees

Chang with the good news
Ron Miller and John Lamparski/Getty | Greg Morabito

Like every New Yorker’s bank account already knows, affordable full service restaurants are becoming fewer and farther between. Momofuku master David Chang reflected that sentiment this week at a New York Times Cities of Tomorrow conference, telling the crowd, “You’re gonna see the mom and pop restaurant in New York City not vanish completely, but it’s gonna be way more difficult.”

He was speaking of those mid-level restaurants in the $40 to $50 price range, Food Republic reports, which indeed are becoming increasingly slim in NYC. Affordable legacy establishments are dying off because of unsustainable rent hikes, higher minimum wage, increased food cost, and more, and restaurateurs are struggling to find ways to cope.

On the panel, Chang and Smorgasburg co-founder Jonathan Butler’s answer to the problem was food halls. “Every developer wants a food hall at the bottom of their building or to anchor their big project,” Butler said, with Chang responding that that was a “seismic shift.” He said:

“When I tried to open my first restaurant in 2004, every place that I went to that was a ground floor space said we don’t want a restaurant. It’s not good for our building. Whether it’s the smells, pests. There just was a general idea that a restaurant did not increase value to a building. And that is completely the opposite situation [today]. It’s very strange.”

Chang has been looking into owning his real estate moving forward to circumvent the pesky rent hike situation that has been plaguing many restaurants in recent years. Just this week, 30-year-old Chinatown diner Cups & Saucer announced its closure because of a rent hike, along with 40-year-old candy and nut shop SP’s Nuts & Candy Co.