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Longtime Dishwasher Becomes Co-Owner of World’s Best Restaurant

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Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant that has been named the world’s best restaurant on four occasions, is getting three new business partners. Two of them are managers of the restaurant, and the other is one of its longtime dishwashers, Ali Sonko.

“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,” chef and co-founder Rene Redzepi wrote in an Instagram post earlier this week that included a picture of the three new co-owners.

Sonko is a 62-year old native of the Gambia who has worked at Noma as a dishwasher since it opened in 2003. The restaurant is currently closed, but when it reopens this December, Sonko will officially be a co-owner of one of the world’s elite eateries.

“Ali is the heart and soul of Noma,” Redzepi said at a celebration honoring the new owners over the weekend. “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 12 children fare.”

Sonko came to Denmark 34 years ago after working as a farmer in the Gambia. He describes his work as a dishwasher at Noma as the “best job.” He has long been embraced as a valued member of the Noma family.

Due to visa issues, Sonko was unable to join the rest of the staff in London in 2010 when Noma earned its first of four awards as the world’s best restaurant. However, the staff all wore t-shirts featuring Sonko’s face to show that he had not been forgotten.

When Noma won the award for the third time in 2012, Sonko was finally able to attend the ceremony and was even selected to give the acceptance speech.

“I cannot describe how happy I am to work here,” Sonko said of working at Noma. “These are the best people to work with, and I’m good friends with everyone. They exhibit enormous respect for me, and no matter what I say or ask about, they are there for me. And that’s enough for me to say that it’s the best job I’ve ever had.”