Critics are saying a chicken sandwich from Fuku is “worth the wait.” No disrespect to Fuku, but I disagree.
I’m not an economist, so my judgement that waiting in line to buy a chicken sandwich from Fuku is a poor investment of time and resources is an amateur one. I understand supply and demand, and I understand that there is a subjective quality to demand. If people are willing to wait in a 50-person line to buy a chicken sandwich, then there is a demand. But if we’re talking about emotional economics, I don’t think it’s worth it. Because waiting in a long line to be one of the first people to buy and eat a chicken sandwich will not fill whatever emotional hole that hungers for validation or novelty or whatever drives one to engage in this behavior.
In case you are unaware of Fukumania, here’s the catch-up: Fuku is a brand new restaurant in the East Village that serves fried chicken sandwiches, fries, a grain-and-kale salad, and beer and cocktails. It is the first fast-casual restaurant from David Chang, the anointed culinary genius behind the Momofuku empire. From ramen to ice cream to fine-dining tasting-menu, everything Chang has done has been dope as fuck. People are excited about Fuku because it combines the Momofuku brand with relatively affordable fast food. It’s Momofuku’s Shake Shack: high-quality sandwiches served quickly. The high-concept description: “Fuku is Momofuku’s version of Chick-fil-a.”
I have not yet eaten at Fuku. I will at some point, because I’m sure it will be delicious. Early reviews are positive. David Chang is a wizard. But the most relevant reason I’m sure it will be delicious is because it’s a fried chicken sandwich. Fried chicken sandwiches are one of the least fuckupable foods in the world. As long as the chicken isn’t burnt or dried out or still frozen, it’s going to taste good. McDonald’s and KFC and the Crown/Kennedy on the corner all make delicious chicken sandwiches. Even if the chicken was battered in spackle and deep-fried in Penzoil, it might still be pretty good if the roll was squishy enough and the spackle had been seasoned competently. A fried chicken sandwich from anywhere will have the essential elements of salt, grease, chicken, and fried. And you’ll only have to wait like 10 minutes, tops.
I didn’t go to Fuku on opening day, but I have gone to other fast casual restaurants on opening day, so I know the experience of waiting in a long line for a long time to buy a sandwich I ate in three minutes. For example, last summer a Shake Shack opened in DUMBO a few blocks from where I worked at the time, so that afternoon a bunch of people walked over for lunch. We waited for 45 minutes in the hot sun to get in the door (mind you, Shake Shack was a known commodity at this point. There wasn’t a ton of novelty in going there on day one, and Shake Shack lines can still regularly take a long time at popular locations simply because the food is good). I ordered a burger and fries and a shake. We went back to the office and ate our lunches. And then we went back to work like we hadn’t just done that. We earned no street cred. No one was impressed. We were behind on our work, because we had just taken a bunch of time to go buy a bunch of sandwiches. We were fuller in belly, but our souls were emptier, because we had bought the hype. We thought, “this may be an event, and we would like to participate in it.” We put our faith in a chain restaurant. But in the end, it was just a hamburger.
Unless you are a professional food person, no one cares if you get a sandwich from Fuku. Instagram photos tagged #fuku aren’t getting that many likes. So the primary modern reason to do something new or exclusive or cool, social media validation, isn’t even really part of the Fuku experience. If they can be honest with themselves, even the people waiting in line right now don’t really care if they get a chicken sandwich. They know there are better ways they could spend their time. They know that the satisfaction they will feel will be fleeting, gone within a few minutes after finishing their food. A chicken sandwich will not make them a complete person, no matter how delicious.
(Photo: Gabriele Stabile)