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David Chang Is Still Haunted by Nishi’s Initial Failure

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The bad reviews made him dread opening his new LA restaurant

David Chang
David Chang
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Burgeoning media mogul and Momofuku boss David Chang is still not over the Nishi debacle, when his Chelsea restaurant opened to poor reviews in early 2016 and had to reconcept late last year. He’s spoken pretty extensively on the topic, but in his brand-new podcast from media company Majordomo, Chang again rehashes the experience, saying it was so painful that it made him “dread” opening his new Los Angeles restaurant, Majordomo.

“I was dreading Los Angeles because of Nishi,” he says to Bill Simmons in the first episode of The Dave Chang Show. “I’m still dreading it because I don’t know mentally if I can take the criticism.”

He’s referring specifically to Eater critic Ryan Sutton’s critical one-star review and Times critic Pete Wells’ one-star tear-up, which both called out the restaurant for being loud, uncomfortable, and expensive, saying that it didn’t quite hit in ambience or food. At the time, Chang compared the criticism to getting a terminal cancer diagnosis and lashed back at Wells, calling him a “bully.”

The chef and restaurateur has long since changed his tune, admitting his fault in the restaurant’s failure and blaming it on a “very limited budget.” But this podcast shows the experience has had lasting effects, and, as he says “really crushed” him. Contributing to his reaction was another revelation in the podcast that he had been off his mental health medications at the time:

Around 2015, when we opened up in Washington D.C., there was an interview of me, and it’s the most bonkers-ass, out-of-my-mind verbal diarrhea I’ve ever done in my life. I was literally out of my mind, full-tilt. I’m a pretty heavily medicated person and with my psychiatrist after 14 years I was like, ‘Hey I think I’m mature enough,’ and I was off of it ... In retrospect I was making decisions that were horrible ... When I got back on all the crap I’m on, I was able to see really quickly like, ‘Woah, I was out of my mind,’ like genuinely.

As for Majordomo, reviews have so far been mixed. Eater’s roving national critic Bill Addison raved about the restaurant in a review, calling it “most exhilarating restaurant opening of 2018 (so far).” But LA’s critic of record Jonathan Gold had a split take, with an about equal number of likes and dislikes, though with a general air of disapproval.

The Nishi rehash ends positively, though, with Chang saying that “Nishi is doing way better, and I feel way better about that.” Nishi is now more of a neighborhood restaurant, serving Italian fare with Asian influences in a much more comfortable space.