If students happen to drop by the Davenport College buttery on Friday nights, they will find a space fully transformed into a loud and bustling student-run restaurant.
Nom is the second restaurant ever started by student organization Yale Pop-up, the brainchild of Lucas Sin ’15 and Kay Teo ’16 that brings together a community of food-lovers to operate one restaurant on campus every semester. Within the new restaurant, three managers and four dedicated student cooks work for more than nine hours each Friday to prepare and cook for the restaurant’s one-day of operation each week, rustling up dishes like Miso stews and Tom Yung Tacos.
Last spring, Yale Pop-up opened the Underground Noodle Collective, an Asian fusion restaurant specializing in ramen. This year, they came back with Nom, serving the kind of tapas-style Asian food found in Japanese izakayas — drinking and snack dens ubiquitous in Japan. From restaurant design to kitchen duty, Nom is entirely student-run.
“I love making ideas come to life and I saw that Lucas had a real passion for cooking,” said Teo, who met Sin in a class last year, where they bonded over a shared love of Asian food. “So I thought, why don’t we make something of this?”
Passion was transformed from concept to reality, and by the end of last spring, the Underground Noodle Collective served 150 customers per night. The restaurant operated for more than a month last semester.
But Nom differs from its predecessor in several ways.
“The Underground Noodle Collective was much more just about assembling a bowl of noodles that people could enjoy,” Sin said. “This time the emphasis is on execution, management and spreading the love for food.”
Aside from Sin and Teo, the team consists of four cooks, a business manager, a front-of-house manager and wait staff. In the kitchen, each cook is in charge of a specific dish on the menu — Sin shows them how to make it, and for the next three weeks, the cooks learn and master the dish through imitation.
During the application process for the restaurant this semester, Sin and Leo said they were not concerned with whether their 70 candidates had prior cooking experience.
“We ended up taking four not because they were the best chefs, but because when we looked at the bigger picture, we thought that they would be able to bring the greatest diversity of flavors to the table,” Teo said.
The team draws from a wide range of backgrounds — Monica Chen ’15, for example, is a neuroscience major with an interest in food policy and obesity, and Aubrey Wahl ’17 once worked as a crepe chef. McLane Ritzel ’14, a lover of fermented foods, makes almond milk and sours kimchi in her dorm room in her spare time, and Chris Zheng ’14 grew up surrounded by his grandmother’s Chinese cooking.
Carolina Rivera ’16, Nom’s business manager, said each member of the restaurant’s team is completely dedicated to the project. Along with Teo and Alex Simon ’17, Rivera is in charge of the service and management aspects of the restaurant.
The network of people and resources at Yale has also allowed the restaurant to thrive.
“We are getting so much free service that would be impossible to have in the real world,” said Teo. “People volunteer to help because they want to be a part of something — everyone from graphic designers [who] come help with the website to computer science majors who help with the reservation system to photographers who help us with publicity.”
Last Friday, Nom was packed with throngs of students who gave up their meal swipes for the YHHAP Fast. Claire Smith ’17 said she was glad to give up her dinner swipe and eat at the restaurant instead, especially after seeing the interesting and flavorful combinations of food in the dishes.
Despite the time and effort that students have put into running Nom, plans for future restaurants are already in the making. Though the plans have yet to be unveiled, Teo hinted that the next enterprise will be a concept that is “super-refined” and “less grungy.”
Nom is open every Friday night from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. in the Davenport buttery.