In 2003, the Danish Restaurant Noma was founded by chefs Claus Meyer, René Redzepi and Mads Refslund. Their ambition was to create an extraordinary gourmet restaurant. Their inspiration was focused on the ingredients. Their dream was to invent the best food in the world using ingredients only from the Nordic region. The name of the restaurant was inspired by that dream. Noma is the two first letter of the two words “Nordisk Mad” (Nordic Food) – to remind them of the dream every day.
The restaurant received its first Michelin star two years later, in 2005, and the second Michelin star was awarded in 2007. In 2010, 2011, 2012 and again in 2014 Noma was named “The Best Restaurant” in the World. In record time, Noma became world famous. People from all over the world wanted to experience the exceptional food at Noma. With only 45 seats in the restaurant, Noma was always full and the waiting list was very long.
Noma had achieved its ambition to become the best restaurant in the world. One of the reasons for this was their ability to constantly improve themselves during the season and reinvent themselves between seasons. Always experimenting, looking for new ingredients, looking for new ways to produce and deliver Nordic food in an absolute extraordinary way, and constantly surprising their guests.
Noma constantly improved their performance and delivered at an extraordinary high level compared to the expectations of their guests. Driven by the virtuoso leadership of the master chef René Redzepi, the Steve Jobs of the gourmet world, they focused on the crucial details, constantly developing the high-performance drivers such as persistence, innovation and perfection. The mindset was totally clear to everybody working there and the framework based on indisputable discipline.
But then something interesting happened in 2015. With a culture of always looking for new ways and new opportunities, Noma challenged their own success and decided to reinvent themselves from scratch. To the surprise of most people, Noma decided to close the restaurant at the peak of its success. Instead of scaling the “old” successful restaurant, they decided that it was time to challenge assumptions and learn again.
One of the assumptions they challenged was the assumption that restaurants have a fixed location and guests travel to visit the restaurant. Why not have the restaurant travel to the guests? What could they learn if they applied their unique ability to use local ingredients to locations outside the Nordic countries? They established pop-up restaurants all over the world to be inspired by other food cultures. In 2015, they opened in Tokyo for 5 weeks, in 2016 in Sydney for 10 weeks and, in 2017, in Tulum, Mexico for 7 weeks. They went on an extraordinary journey of discovery and learning around the world.
In parallel, they worked on reinventing the restaurant in Copenhagen. They decided to establish a totally new restaurant in an old maritime warehouse on the old fortifications of Copenhagen. The old building was renovated and combined with new buildings and greenhouses, designed by the famous Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, from the company BIG.
Noma version 2.0 opened in February 2018. Already before the restaurant reopened the expectations were high. The team exceeded all expectations. Jonathan Gold from the Los Angeles Times wrote: “The world’s most influential restaurant reinvents itself”. Noma is no longer just a unique world-class gourmet restaurant. The new dream is to create a food laboratory, or food innovation gallery, that sets new standards in the art of creating food and gourmet experiences.
For 15 years, Noma mastered all aspects of gourmet cooking. They stayed relevant by constantly reinventing themselves, season after season and as a result they kept winning awards and recognition as the best in the world. In spite of the success – or maybe because of the success – the leaders at Noma decided to challenge everything to achieve an even bigger dream. Their work on the details made the new dream possible.
The renewal of Noma is one of the most impressive examples of reinvention from a position of strength. It takes courage to close the most successful restaurant in the world. It takes humbleness to bring Noma to its guests through pop-up restaurants. It takes curiosity to bring the team on a journey around the world to learn. And it takes big dreams and attention to crucial details to reopen the restaurant three years later – exceeding their own best efforts and reinventing the best restaurant in the world to perform at a new level.
We had the opportunity to visit the reinvented Noma to celebrate the completion of this book. We could not imagine a better place to celebrate our thoughts on leadership for reinvention. The evening was extraordinary and the visit to the food lab after dinner was very inspiring. The experience confirmed our assumptions that reinvention from a position of strength offers incredible opportunity to stay relevant and beat your best.