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Talking to David Chang about Ando, his new delivery-only Momofuku startup

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Launches today in New York City

The Ernesto
Ando

Today, David Chang, owner of the Momofuku Group and patron saint of monosodium glutamate, is launching a new, delivery-only restaurant called Ando. The app is now available in iOS. But before you fire up your smartphone with visions of Milk Bar cookies, fried chicken, and ssäm sauce dancing through your head, you should know a few things.

For now, Ando is sending out access codes to the first 200 people who signed up on the website to skip the line. And the delivery area is limited to just one neighborhood in Manhattan, East Midtown between East 40th Street and East 59th Street, near Ando's so-far-only physical kitchen. Delivery will be provided by Uber Rush, the ride-hail company's fast-growing courier service, but that's not Ando's only ties to the world's most valuable (and controversial) startup. The app was designed by Expa, a San Francisco-based startup lab built by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp. Hooman Radfar, an Expa partner, helped Chang create Ando. Both say they plan on growing the new delivery restaurant as fast as they can — although they won't say when it will be available to more than the first 200 customers.

"I want this to be an experience, I want this to not necessarily just be an app," Chang told The Verge. "This is an extension of Momofuku, and if anything I think it's idiosyncratic. And when I say that, I mean we stick to what we think is right... I don't think this is going to be for everybody, but we want everyone to enjoy it."

In other words, anyone trying to watch their weight may want to avoid Ando like a crispy, cheese-soaked plague. Fire up the app, and you're greeted with the warning that Ando is "all about meat, cheese, and bread. Don't tell your doctor."

Ando

So what's on the menu? Among the most desirable items, there's the cheesesteak — a deadly combination of beef, house-made American cheese sauce, and pickled peppers. The Ernesto sandwich is made of roast pork, grainy curried mustard, sauerkraut, Chinese broccoli, and muenster cheese. (Both are $12.) There's a hibiscus doughnut, as well as a trio of cookies specially made by Milk Bar's Christina Tosi. More is being added everyday. Previous reports suggested that customers could "unlock" secret menu items in the app, such as a bucket of Momofuku's signature fried chicken, but Chang said details on that would stay under wraps for now.

Chang says he wants the food at Ando, which is being developed in partnership with wd-50 veteran JJ Basil, to have a "point of view." His goal is "make food that's extraordinarily delicious that delivers well where hopefully people will never have to wait in line." You can almost hear Chang, who since 2004 has built an empire that includes restaurants, pastry shops, delivery services, magazines, and cookbooks, pitching that exact line to investors. That's because Ando will run like a traditional startup, with rounds of fundraising, "scaling up," and a heavy emphasis on experimentation.

"From the front-end consumer facing app, we've tried to create the most simple, easy experience," Radfar says. Echoing Chang's sentiment that the Ando is more than just an app, Radfar said that delivery services will be available through "various channels," which suggests that Ando's food will be available through social media platforms like Facebook and Slack as well.

Ando's back-end platform was designed to "plug in to any third party delivery service vendor," with Uber Rush being the best so far in terms of price points, Radfar said. "They've been excellent so far," he added. "We're really excited to see what they can do." Chang is a big believer in paying his employees a decent wage with benefits, but because Uber Rush is a third-party vendor, Ando won't have any control over the salaries of their delivery workers.

Chang says he isn't worried about Ando cannibalizing customers from New York City's other delivery startup, Maple, in which Chang is an investor. Chang says food delivery, especially in places like New York City, is a wide-open market. Indeed, in addition to Maple, a slew of delivery services have launched recently, like Munchery, Uber Eats, and Caviar, as well as established players like Grubhub's Seamless and Yelp's Eat 24.

"I would look at it as, I have Noodle Bar and I have Ssam Bar two-and-a-half blocks away from each other. Very different restaurants," Chang says. "I feel that at the same time, they serve the same clientele. It's a huge pie. I don't think anyone is ever going to have a monopoly on it."