The best chefs will tell you the success of a restaurant depends not on the chef, but on the entire staff, including the dishwashers. Chef Rene Redzepi is clearly among that group. When his Noma restaurant in Copenhagen received the first of four Best Restaurant in the World awards in 2010, Redzepi hoped to bring his entire team to the award ceremony in London. Dishwasher Ali Sonko, however, couldn't make the trip, so his colleagues each wore a shirt depicting his face as they accepted the award, reports the BBC. When Noma won again two years later, Sonko was granted the honor of giving the acceptance speech. Now Redzepi has found a new way to honor the 62-year-old dishwasher who has worked at Noma since it opened 14 years ago: by making him a part owner.
The surprise announcement came as Noma closed its original location. Redzepi plans to launch a new restaurant and urban farm in a different neighborhood in December after first opening a pop-up restaurant in Mexico, reports Eater. "It's great construction project, but what's it all worth if we do not have employees?" says Redzepi, per the Copenhagen Post. "Ali is Noma's soul." In addition to Sonko—who has 12 children and is originally from Gambia—Noma manager James Spreadbury and service director Lau Richter were also named as partners in a move Redzepi described as "one of the happiest moments of my time at Noma." Other employees will receive "a piece of the walls" of the original Noma location, Redzepi writes on Instagram. (A former Noma chef is tackling school lunches.)