A TV-Famous Chef on How San Francisco Is Killing Its Restaurants

Richie Nakano was a ramen star. But that wasn’t enough for Silicon Valley.

Maria Bustillos
GEN
Published in
16 min readFeb 11, 2020

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Photo illustration; Source: Caroline Hatchett

RRichie Nakano’s Hapa Ramen was launched in 2010 on folding tables at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. It didn’t take long for his local pop-up to grow into a Bay Area staple. As people lined up for a taste of his gorgeous bowls of fragrant homemade broth — full of noodles, pickles, kimchi, sous vide eggs, pork leg confit — Nakano quickly earned the reputation as one of the area’s most innovative (and hardest-working) chefs. His fame grew not only through Hapa Ramen, but also thanks to Line Cook, his crackling, salacious blog about restaurant life, sustainability, craft, and the politics and culture of food. It’s a presence he’d later expand to Instagram and Twitter. The late Anthony Bourdain was a big fan; he told me once that Nakano was the best chef writing.

Nakano is divorced, with two young sons and two dogs. In a 2013 StarChefs interview, he defined what success meant to him: “Getting my place open. Getting to a place where I feel like I can give my kids a really secure future.”

The big chance came when Silicon Valley investor Owen Van Natta staked Hapa Ramen in a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Mission District, which opened in November 2014. But almost immediately, the new partners clashed in a highly public spat over issues of control, costs, and profits; the restaurant closed just five months later. The Hapa Ramen story is an emblem of the frequent collisions, in the Bay Area especially, between Silicon Valley tycoons and the entrepreneurs and artists tempted by their sometimes-poisoned chalice.

“With the money came expectations,” Bourdain observed dryly, in a July 2016 Parts Unknown segment featuring Nakano. “Only four months in, the shit hit the fan… It really is the perfect story of evil triumphs over good.”

It’s been nearly five years since the end of Hapa Ramen. GEN caught up with Nakano to learn what happened next and where he thinks the restaurant world is headed.

GEN: Do you miss the kitchen?

Richie Nakano: Yes and no. That first year was really hard, like I didn’t know what to do with myself. And it was hard…

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Maria Bustillos
GEN
Writer for

is a journalist and editor of Popula.com, an alt-global news and culture publication experimenting with blockchain-based publishing innovations.