An Open Letter to Owen Van Natta, the Tech Investor Who Just Destroyed San Francisco's Beloved Hapa Ramen
J Thoendell stashed this in Food
But what you’ve done, Owen, by purchasing what a chef built over more than five years, from nothing—built it through skill and personality, talent and perseverance—and then dishonoring the builder? That’s sent a deep tremor through the local chef community, and rattled the national one. You probably just thought you were cutting a guy who seemed like an asshole (I get it, Richie can be abrasive; he says things in public that a lot of us say only privately). You were solving a problem. Swatting a fly. I can see how that could make business sense to a guy who doesn’t understand the culture of food and restaurants here.
But the rest of us? We’re wondering if this is how it’s going to be in San Francisco—if you’re the tech bro kicking the Latino kids off the Mission soccer field, because you have a piece of paper in your hand. It’s made everybody realize that what we value about the restaurant scene in San Francisco is dependent on whether or not a wealthy guy gets pissed off enough to fire somebody.
That plays against this idea we have of chefs as auteurs, building businesses around artistic vision. What the Hapa Ramen story makes us all fear is that it’s really a guy texting from a $9 million Tudor-style mansion in the residential luxury zone of Silicon Valley who decides what plays, determines the real culture of the Mission. Gets to say who stays, who goes home. Who then plies that privilege with lawyers and contracts.
It tells us in the restaurant community that we’re nothing more than a bunch of tattooed, underpaid little serfs, Owen. That makes us scared. And it makes us mad enough to want to do something that makes us stop feeling scared. Maybe you’ll open a new restaurant in the Hapa space that’ll be amazing—better than Richie’s, though I was a fan—but, let’s face it, Owen, it’s going to be a hard sell for this little but feverishly engaged community you’re now a part of. I won’t lie to you Owen, it’s going to be a hard sell. I mean, you were a Facebook guy, right? You know how people talk on social media.