In search of a reservation, I recently navigated myself to the website of Mission Chinese Food, a well-regarded and perennially cool restaurant I like to go to mostly for their chewy rice cakes slathered in fermented black beans and bitter melon and szechuan peppercorns. On the homepage, I stumbled upon one of the my favorite words to find on the internet: merch.
Let me tell you: this merch is HOT! This is not some overpriced “Beefy T with a logo haphazardly screenprinted on a pocket” merch. This isn’t a jauntily designed matchbook. These are pieces that have more in common with what Justin Bieber or Kanye West offer up to fans, instead of what we usually associate with restaurant merch (i.e. anything from Hard Rock Cafe). There are highlighter yellow shirts with reflective panels! There are thermals! There are crewneck sweatshirts with “good luck” printed multiple times on the front like little kiss marks and a menu printed on the back, and I assume that if you wear one, you will feel like you are in a special club! Which is the whole point of merch, really. I was livid that nobody had told me about this hot merch sooner. The merch—I needed it.
Chefs being cool and fashionable is not shocking or even novel anymore, but a restaurant designing this sort of merch is certainly new. Chef Angela Dimayuga—who was once flown to Paris by Opening Ceremony to cook chicken wings for a fashion week event—collaborated with Colin Bergh of Toronto’s Bad Day Magazine on the Twin-Peaks-Logo inspired pieces, including that reflective neon shirt. (The rest were designed by Oakland-based artist Jen Shear and Sonya Sombreuil Cohen of LA’s COME TEES.) It’s a clear sign that streetwear and logomania have started infiltrating the restaurant world.
Dimayuga and Mission Chinese Food’s executive chef, Danny Bowien, have both demonstrated an interest in fashion: Dimayuga looks cool literally every time you see her, even in chef’s whites; Bowien is an avowed disciple of Vetements. They represent a young, smart, aesthetically minded generation of chefs and restaurateurs taking hold of the branding of their restaurants and embracing collaboration, both within the restaurant industry and outside it: there are pop-ups around the country with similarly talented and cool chefs; there are expertly curated Instagram accounts; there are zines; there are Coveteur profiles; there is neon-yellow coach jacket merch.
From the start, Mission Chinese Food has been a little kooky. It was their whole thing: their first New York location had a photo of Laura Palmer hanging above the toilet and the Twin Peaks theme song playing on loop from an iPod. (Hence all those logos.) It was also, notably, the only place in New York I’ve ever spotted David Byrne. When you walk into the new location, far more designed and far more large, your first thought is usually just, this restaurant is so fucking cool. Luckily, the food backs all of that up; now the merch does too. And it’s a much less embarrassing way to publicize your #foodie status than a Sweetgreen shirt that says “Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe.”
Here are some of our favorite pieces: