In a somewhat surprising twist, chef Richie Nakano, who launched his Hapa Ramen brand through a series of pop-ups and a Ferry Plaza stand starting back in 2010, has been fired from his own restaurant. As Inside Scoop reports, the move by primary owner Owen Van Natta and director of operations Deborah Blum (Beretta, Starbelly) comes just over a week after the restaurant was reviewed and Nakano subsequently lashed back at critic Michael Bauer via social media, as is his wont.
The primary trouble appears to be Van Natta and Blum were looking decrease food costs and make some changes to the menu in order to make the place more profitable, while Nakano wanted to stick firmly to his original vision, and his food, good ingredients and all. But Blum also makes mention of "the social media personality" of a restaurant, and wanting "to creat[e] a more positive environment in [that regard]."
Nakano (@linecook) has been a highly vocal presence online since the beginning of his burgeoning business, and began his online writing life with a blog titled Line Cook on which he wrote about things like the life of a stage (pronounced stahj, the French term for someone temporarily interning in a kitchen). He revealed his bombastic social media personality after his very first Hapa Ramen pop-up, when some technical difficulties created some chaos during service and at least one aggressive Yelper promptly posted a horror story and told Nakano to give up his venture before it had begun. Nakano documented the exchange on Twitter and replied "Fuck you you sad miserable person."
That incident was followed by one in which Nakano came for Michael Bauer's partner Michael Murphy on Twitter, claiming Murphy was badmouthing him to colleagues.
The most recent situation involved Nakano getting fairly defensive about his halfway decent, two-and-a-half-star review from Bauer, going so far as to print a dig at Bauer on the bottom of his restaurant menus, which he of course posted to Instagram.
All that may have been a last straw for Blum and Van Natta, with whom it sounds like business relations with Nakano had already grown tense at the barely four-month-old Hapa Ramen.
The sad part, for Nakano, is that this was a brand and a concept that he had built over five years of personal labor, and having sold the majority stake of it to Van Natta in order to get his restaurant open (after earlier attempts to open a brick-and-mortar that included a small space carved out of what is now The Progress), it's now all been taken away. He tells Inside Scoop, "It just sucks, because I basically started Hapa to make a better life for my family... and now it’s being yanked out from under me."
And he continues to post reactions on Twitter.
Me irl pic.twitter.com/uazifwFjRa— Richie Nakano (@linecook) March 26, 2015
I'm very sad about not being a part of Hapa anymore. It was my baby, my life, and it's been taken away from me.— Richie Nakano (@linecook) March 28, 2015
But I'm not going to be a part of something that dilutes five years of hard work, sacrifice and passion to make a quick buck— Richie Nakano (@linecook) March 28, 2015
Like, if you read that inside scoop piece they say they want a different personality for the social media. People LOVE the Hapa social media— Richie Nakano (@linecook) March 28, 2015
My head is held high, my conscious is clear, I'm proud of everything we accomplished over the past five years. On to the next chapter.— Richie Nakano (@linecook) March 28, 2015
Update 3/30: It now appears that the restaurant is closed completely, with all 35 employs laid off, or furloughed, as Inside Scoop reports. The Bold Italic spoke further to Nakano who said that the restaurant is now dead and shut down completely, but it remains unclear if Van Natta is going to want to stay in the restaurant business and open something else in the space, or not, having invested quite a bit on a venture that only lasted four months. Nakano says that after some regrouping time, he will be back, somewhere.
Update 3/31: The owners have issued a statement refuting the firing narrative, and saying that all but two line cooks have been kept on staff for a new concept in the works.
Previously: Local Chef Won't Take Michael Bauer's Criticism Lying Down