Few people got a closer look at how the Covid-19 pandemic upended the restaurant industry than David Chang. The founder of restaurant business Momofuku Group and entertainment group Majordomo Media, Chang had to temporarily close all of his restaurants worldwide.
Now Chang is thinking about the future of the industry, and what needs to change so business owners are ready for the unexpected. "We cannot allow ourselves to be this vulnerable and fragile in some other kind of difficult situation," he said at the Inc. 5000 Vision Conference on Thursday. "There probably will be another pandemic or environmental disaster, and we need to be better prepared."
In addition to his other ventures, this year Chang premiered the latest season of his Netflix show Ugly Delicious and published the New York Times best-selling memoir Eat a Peach, in which he gets personal about his relationship with his parents and his struggles with mental illness. Here are some of Chang's most helpful insights about getting through the worst of times.
1. You can always outwork your way to the top.
When Chang first started out, he admitted, he wasn't the best of chefs. But his experience in culinary school taught him two things: that there are people out there who are more talented than him, and that he could, essentially, outwork them. So instead of just relying on talent, Chang took on a mindset of hard work and spent nights chopping ingredients in front of the television, honing his craft. "I knew that someone would quit before I'd quit," he recalled.
It was this determination that eventually led him to success, because watching himself get better gave him the self-confidence to move forward. It's also what helped save him from his depression. "I had a tangible physical goal that didn't involve me feeling sorry about myself," Chang said. "Momofuku is intertwined with my mental health."
2. Focus on the future and fixing what was wrong in the past.
While it's easy to wish the world could go back to the way it was before the pandemic forced most restaurants to close, Chang said, it won't, and it's time to move on. "The question we should be asking ourselves is, 'Did it really work that well to begin with?'" He noted that food prices have been distorted for years, and that it's never been more difficult to get a loan to open a business. If business owners want to move forward, he urged, they should take a moment to think more broadly about underlying issues in the industry.
3. Check yourself.
One of the main leadership issues Chang has faced is saying too much. He compared himself to a young kid who tells everyone they're "smelly" when, in reality, he was the smelly kid himself. He said that it took years of maturity for him to understand that just because he knows the answer to a problem, it doesn't mean he needs to share it with everyone.
Chang credited much of his leadership success to executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, whom he's worked with for the past eight years. For years, Chang had struggled with making decisions because he was resistant to growth and change as a leader. "The same things that led me to be successful," he said of his stubbornness, "were beginning to be a detriment to myself and the company."
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