The most high-profile member of any restaurant staff is rarely the dishwasher or door porter. But that’s not the case at Copenhagen’s Noma, a past four-time winner of San Pellegrino annual World’s 50 Best restaurants list.
Chef Rene Redzepi this week (Feb. 28) announced Noma had selected three members of its staff to become co-owners, including Ali Sonko, a Gambian immigrant with 12 children who has worked as one of its dishwashers.
The elevation of Sonko is particularly noteworthy, as he gained national attention in 2010 after he—because of visa issues—was unable to travel to London with the rest of his team to collect the restaurant’s first San Pellegrino award. That story has only gathered more resonance in 2017, when the political winds in many Western countries became anti-immigrant. Redzepi told Berlingske, a Danish newspaper:
Ali is the heart and soul of Noma. I don’t think people appreciate what it means to have a person like Ali in the house. He is all smiles, no matter how his twelve children fare. And, by the way, my own father was also named Ali, and he too worked as a dishwasher when he came to Denmark.
Redzepi’s father was a Macedonian immigrant. He said restaurant service director Lau Richter and manager James Spreadbury would also be elevated. He posted a photo of all three of his new co-owners to his Instagram account:
New partners: As we close the doors to the old noma, we also push towards the next rendition. We are almost positive we will open the doors to our new space at the end of this year. But, most importantly, we are here to tell you that noma in its new edition will have a handful of new partners. It gives me incredible joy to let the world know that our restaurant managers Lau and James, and our dishwasher, Ali, have become partners in noma. This is only the beginning, as we plan to surprise several more of our staff with a piece of the walls that they have chosen to work so hard within. This move is one of the happiest moments of my time at noma – best wishes René Redzepi
The move comes as Noma closes its doors after 14 years at its current harbor-front location. It will reopen in late 2017 as an “urban garden,” according to the BBC.
The architects of the new space have designed it to include 10 small, cottage-sized buildings and one larger central structure, all located in an old mine depot.