Last Friday, Yale’s first student-run pop-up restaurant opened its doors to serve noodles to 60 customers in the Davenport basement.
Lucas Sin ’15 recruited three sous-chefs and a business manager in January to create the Underground Noodle Collective. The pop-up restaurant opened for business in the Davenport buttery on Friday from 6–9 p.m., selling bowls of noodles for $8 to students who had made online reservations in advance. Sin and his sous-chefs — Mariona Badenas ’16, Rafi Bildner ’16 and Sarah Strong ’16 — chose to create the collective in order to address a lack of affordable alternatives to the dining hall for weekend meals.
“People get tired of the dining halls, and you hear about students being dissatisfied with the food at Ivy Noodle, but unhappy about the prices at Barcelona,” Sin said. “People get excited about good food, and we want to exploit those empty stomachs.”
The Underground Noodle Collective menu features a basic noodle bowl with toppings that include pork belly and egg, and asks customers to select their own broth with options such as tomato, curry and a weekly special. Sin said one of the restaurant’s strengths is that each chef has a different culinary background: Bildner attended a French culinary school, Strong has an American focus and Sin is familiar with Chinese cuisine. Kay Teo ’16, the restaurant’s business manager, brings to the team an understanding of Japanese food.
Bildner said the Underground Noodle Collective team hopes to keep prices affordable. The students said they do not aim to make a profit from the cooking, adding that they charge only enough money to cover the costs of ingredients and capital. Still, Bildner said the Collective will donate any additional profit it generates to the Forks and Knives Society, an organization Sin founded last semester that offers weekly culinary training with Ron DeSantis, director of culinary excellence for Yale Dining.
Bildner said he and the other students committed to the project largely because they were looking for an opportunity to try out new recipes and practice cooking techniques.
“There’s a huge food culture at Yale, and people appreciate student cooking,” Bildner said. “I think it was clear that we’re filling a niche because reservations for Friday night were all filled up within a few days.”
Members of the Underground Noodle Collective team spent the semester crafting an image for the restaurant, Sin said. Because the food is being served in the Davenport basement, Sin hopes the atmosphere will feel “grungy.” He said the chefs played rock music and cooked in the buttery so they could talk with customers who were eating at the counter.
Sin said he chose his sous-chefs through a complex tryout process, adding that the application tested students’ creativity by asking questions such as, “What dish can you make out of citrus, pork belly and garlic?” Qualified applicants were then invited to do tryouts in Commons, where they performed tasks such as preparing a meal in under two minutes. Students who join the team must commit at least eight hours a week to the restaurant.
“We weren’t trying to put pressure on applicants, but we needed people who were cool-headed because we’re running a business and we want it to be professional,” Sin said.
Customers who came to the Noodle Collective on Friday night said they enjoyed the food and found the service very professional. One customer, Vaskar Pahari ’14, said he thinks the restaurant was a fun alternative to the dining hall, but he added that he thinks the Noodle Collective may not attract business in the long term unless they make their pricing more competitive.
Sin said he hopes the Noodle Collective team will open a new pop-up restaurant next semester featuring a different type of cuisine. He said he was inspired by startups like the Reading List, which opened this semester and delivers breakfast to students’ rooms on weekends, and Northern Greening, a catering startup students created last spring, though he added that the Noodle Collective differs in that it does not do catering or delivery.
Next Friday night, the Noodle Collective will accept customers without reservations.