David Chang’s restaurant group Momofuku has named its first CEO: 29-year-old Marguerite Zabar Mariscal, who has risen through the ranks after joining as an intern in 2011.
It’s a major structural change-up for the company, with Momofuku president Alex Munoz-Suarez now reporting to Mariscal. She’s charged with overseeing all aspects of the business, including opening new restaurants, new lines of business such as consumer packaged goods, and overall brand growth, she tells Eater. She’s building a new leadership team, including new CFO Elizabeth Chrystal, who’s been with the company since 2016, and overall will manage a team of about 40.
The structural change will give Chang more on-the-ground time at Momofuku’s new restaurants, training chefs and instilling company culture in those new places, as well as allow him to focus on media and spend more time with his newborn son, a big factor driving the changes, Mariscal says.
Momofuku last toyed with its internal structure in 2017, when it brought on Munoz-Suarez as president. He has a heavy corporate background, having worked for the Batali and Bastianich group for 13 years during a massive growth period. At the time, he was tasked with creating “the required corporate systems” to support the company’s many restaurants. The year before that, Momofuku Holdings took on a new investor, Related Companies chairman Stephen M. Ross.
The group has opened several new restaurants since and expanded its fast-casual Fuku brand, including some in Related-backed developments, but it looks like the brand’s reverting back to a Chang expert on top with Mariscal’s promotion.
A big part of Mariscal’s new role is defining what Momofuku will look like as a restaurant group in years to come, she says, with special focus on identifying new lines of business outside the restaurant realm, such as consumer packaged goods. “How do you in 2019 have a restaurant group when the operation of restaurants gets tougher and tougher every year?” is a question she’ll be addressing.
Moving forward, the group aims to continue opening concepts like Kāwi in Hudson Yards and Kōjin in Toronto, restaurants that she says have a strong “sense of place and connection to the chef.” She’ll also drive the effort behind Noodle Bar’s West Coast expansion, and figure out what subsequent outposts may look like.
Mariscal — a member of the Zabar family, founders of the iconic Upper West Side Jewish grocery store of the same name — has been with the company since 2011, starting as an intern before the homegrown company brought on outside investors. Back then she ran the brand’s social media accounts, launching an Instagram and revamping its website. She moved on to design, marketing, and then public relations.
Chang tells Forbes that she became “probably the most respected employee” of the company, for taking on several roles like helping prep service when needed or working the door at private events without ever being asked to do so. In 2018, she landed a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 food and drink list.
“There is nothing that she won’t do herself, if needed,” Chang tells Forbes. “You can’t say that for a lot of people.” The famed restaurateur and celebrity chef says Mariscal has a keen understanding of the Momofuku brand, even better than he himself.
That understanding may be what propelled Mariscal into the role of brand director in 2016, a position she held for two years before becoming chief of staff and taking reign over the brand and design. She’s quoted in Forbes in 2018 saying that she acts as a conduit between Chang’s brain and Momofuku’s internal teams — “I speak fluent Dave.”
The brand now has over a dozen restaurants, the newest being a Noodle Bar at Time Warner Center, Kawi at Hudson Yards, and Peach Mart, an Asian-inspired convenience store next to Kawi. Later this year, Chang will open a Noodle Bar in L.A.