Momofuku’s 34-year-old CEO turned down the job ‘a million times’: Inside her daily routine

“I think anyone who grows up wanting to be a CEO is crazy,” the 34-year-old CEO of Momofuku recently told Fortune. “It’s a very difficult job.”

Reaching the C-suite of the culinary brand may not have been a childhood dream for Mariscal, who grew up on New York’s Upper West Side. But her love affair with Momofuku—comprised of a restaurant group and a line of home-cooking products—goes way back.

A teenaged Mariscal first ate at Momofuku’s Noodle Bar with her father back in 2005, after reading a review of the restaurant in The New York Times. She later celebrated her 18th birthday at Momofuku Ko, the group’s two-Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant in the East Village. She was drawn to Momofuku’s food, of course, but also chef David Chang’s ethos of shattering cultural barriers in gastronomy.

“It felt like not so much a restaurant, as much as a brand trying to tackle how food and culture intersect,” Mariscal said.

In 2011, after graduating from Bowdoin College with a bachelor’s degree in English, Mariscal spotted an online listing for a public-relations internship at Momofuku. She applied, got the gig, and two months later, was hired full-time. She held other positions at the company over the years, including social media manager and VP of brand and design. In 2018, Mariscal was promoted to chief of staff and creative director.

In 2019, after operating as Momofuku’s de facto chief since its inception, founder and chef Chang wanted to shift his focus to the culinary and media sides of the business—as well as his TV-hosting duties. When it came time to appoint Momofuku’s first-ever CEO, Chang turned to Mariscal, who was 29 years old at the time.

Mariscal had her reservations. “I did not feel ready to be a CEO,” she told Fortune. But she couldn’t shake the feeling of responsibility and ownership she felt towards the brand.

“I didn’t want someone else dictating the future of the company,” she said

Let her cook

The brainchild of “rebellious” chef David Chang, Momofuku began in 2004 as a restaurant group. Its first location, Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York’s East Village, sought to change Americans’ definition of what ramen could be. Over the years, Momofuku tossed East and West together in a wok and set it aflame—and was crowned “the most important restaurant in America” by Bon Appétit in 2013.

Mariscal was named the company’s CEO in 2019. First order of business? “I felt really strongly that we needed to diversify the business,” Mariscal said.

Mariscal’s hunch proved prophetic. The following year, the COVID pandemic forced the closure of several restaurants, including both of Momofuku’s international locations and the Michelin-starred Ko. Momofuku launched a line of home-cooking products like air-dried instant noodles, soy sauce, chili crunch, and seasoning salt—to great success.

In 2023, Momofuku Goods hit $50 million in sales and sold 12 million servings of noodles. The products can now be purchased at Whole Foods, Publix, Wegmans, and a number of independent stores. In hindsight, Mariscal says leading Momofuku through the pandemic gave her the ultimate confidence in the CEO role.

“Nothing really seems scary after that,” she explained. “Everything will be okay, because you made it through the worst possible thing that could happen.”

Courtesy of Momofuku

Building a dynasty

Mariscal first entered the restaurant industry as an act of rebellion. Well, sort of.

Her grandfather, Stanley Zabar, is the co-owner of Zabar’s, the iconic “gourmet emporium” in New York City’s Upper West Side that specializes in smoked fish, caviar, and cheese. Her great-grandparents founded the grocery store. Growing up, Mariscal was always cautioned against entering the food and retail businesses.

“They were horrible businesses: You worked on holidays, the margins were terrible,” Mariscal remembers family members telling her. 

But she didn’t listen—nobody in the family did.

“I have a ton of cousins, uncles, family members that are all in the food business in one form or another,” she said. “So even though my grandpa said not to, I think it was somewhat inevitable that I would end up back there.”

Momofuku’s founder similarly hails from a family business, and has injected that philosophy into his restaurants. Mariscal shared the best piece of advice the chef has given her: “We always want to be right in the long run … So, focusing less on tomorrow or next week, and really trying to build something for the future,” Mariscal explains. 

In other words, why stop at a food empire when you could build a dynasty?

The CEO walked Fortune through a day in her life, which often involves an hour-long walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and “a disgusting number of meetings”—but never precludes time at the park with her beloved dog, a Spinone Italiano named after a character from The Sopranos.

Mariscal's family runs Zabar's, an iconic grocery store on the Upper West Side,

Courtesy of Momofuku

Day in the life

7:30 a.m.: The first thing Mariscal does when she wakes up is check her email—while still in bed. It’s “just to make sure there are no fires that happened the night before,” she said.

8:00 a.m.: Mariscal takes her “ridiculous” Spinone Italiano, Carmela, off-leash in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park or Fort Greene Park. “She’s named after Carmela Soprano,” Mariscal said.

Visiting the park every morning with Carmela has been a “net positive” for Mariscal’s mental wellness, as it forces her to focus on her personal life and get some fresh air before digging into work.

8:30 a.m.: Mariscal returns home from the park and gets to work at her desk. “The first thing I do when I get to my computer is look at my schedule for the day and jigsaw everything around.”

On Mondays or Fridays, Mariscal will “block off a big chunk” of time to work on big-picture projects. That may or may not involve future plans for the shuttered Ko restaurant. “We still have the space,” Mariscal teased. “So the idea is to do something else in there.”

9:00 a.m.: Mariscal starts sipping on coffee. “It’s just an iced coffee with oat milk,” she said. “Or I really like drip coffee, which I think is very unsexy, but it’s great because you can just drink endless amounts.”

The coffee helps her “power through” her morning Zoom calls and phone meetings. 

10:00 a.m.: Momofuku’s nightly restaurant logs come in. “Every restaurant submits a report of what happened the night before,” Mariscal says. “So it’s a way to catch up on how service went, or if anyone interesting came in.”

The craziest log she’s ever read? “We had a coffee chain in the city come in for a holiday party, and the log was horrible. Everyone was double fisting drinks, it was just pure chaos.”

11:00 a.m.: Mariscal starts making her way to the office via her preferred mode of transportation: walking. “My grandpa lives a block away from the store that he runs,” she says. “He always told me to live walking distance [away] from work.”

Mariscal’s walking route takes her across either the Brooklyn Bridge or Manhattan Bridge to get to Momofuku’s office, which is located in Manhattan’s Chinatown. She is also fond of the “walk and talk”—and will take work calls during her hour-long commute to the office. “I think there’s too many Zooms happening right now,” she said.

12:00 p.m.: Mariscal gets to the Momofuku office, which she says has a “pretty strong” snack selection including seaweed, gummies, and Tiny Tate’s chocolate chip cookies. “I’ll have some in-person meetings, or I’ll walk over to the restaurants to have meetings there,” she said.

1:30 p.m.: For lunch, Mariscal takes advantage of the office’s location to explore local Chinatown offerings. “We used to have an office in Midtown that we moved, because life’s too short to eat bad food,” she said.

Mariscal is currently on a quest to try as many banh mi eateries as possible near the office.

2:00 p.m.: Mariscal’s work day continues. She estimates she has 12 to 15 meetings or phone calls every day. “I have a lot of direct reports across the different businesses,” she said. “So really just making sure I’m checking in with them consistently.”

Mariscal may have a “disgusting number” of meetings every day, but she tries to keep things interesting. She regularly walks from Momofuku Noodle Bar’s Columbus Circle location to the East Village restaurant—which takes over an hour—while taking rolling calls.

6:00 p.m.: Mariscal wraps up her work day. Some of her days end later if she has a restaurant visit or work drinks on her calendar.

8:00 p.m.: Dinner is Mariscal’s favorite meal of the day. “It’s the only one that I think about and plan,” she said. 

The CEO likes to plot out her dinner throughout the work day. If she has a meeting uptown, she’ll check out local gourmet grocers. If her day ends in the Chinatown office, she’ll visit Asian grocery stores in the area. “I try to take advantage of my work schedule to fuel my dinner schedule,” she said.

For Mariscal, cooking is a wellness activity. “I think it’s a way of focusing on something else that’s not work, and it’s something I can put my full attention into.”

9:30 p.m.: “After dinner, if I’m not super stressed out about what’s going on at work, I’ll try to make a couple of old-fashioneds or martinis,” Mariscal says. To wind down, she and her girlfriend like to play games like gin rummy and backgammon together.
12:00 a.m.: Mariscal doesn’t usually go to sleep until midnight or 1:00 a.m. “The amount of blue light I intake is not helpful.”

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