From Hakata to the World: the Secret of the “Japanese Wonder” IPPUDO NY Continues to Roll Out
Ever since they launched Ramen Dining “IPPUDO” in East Village in March 2008, which was their very first overseas venue, the IPPUDO NY team has been striving to make “RAMEN” to take roots in Manhattan. The staff at this restaurant has been rolling out many surprises including their uniforms by Engineered Garments and Ramen event held in collaboration with Marvel. What are they aiming for and are up to now, to secure support here in New York, where the best restaurants in the world compete to gain their place? Here’s the latest update.
WORDS and PHOTOS by TOMOHIKO HARA（CHIKARANOMOTO PR）
IPPUDO EAST VILLAGE
Enjoying Ramen in a Restaurant with a Club Vibe
Saturday, 14:20. The sun shines bright but the wind bites in Manhattan’s East village. One by one, pedestrians bundled up in scarves open and enter the door to Ippudo. 30 or so men and women sit waiting at the bar. In Japan, customers in Ramen restaurants eat and leave quickly, spending about an average of 20-30 minutes in the venue. Here, even at lunch time customers like to visit by groups of 2 or 3 and enjoy their conversation while having their Ramen, spending about an average of an hour. The entrance to the restaurant that typically welcome about 1,000 customers every day was almost overflowing with people waiting to be seated. Walk through the dimly lit approach leading to the tables, and you are suddenly struck by the sight of the open kitchen and a wide space. The upbeat music in the air, the lively communication in the kitchen, the vibrant voices of the hall staffs, the atmosphere reminded me of a club with live music performance. The common language among the staff is Japanese, and the lively atmosphere generated by the voices of the locally hired staff who shout out in Japanese, “a Ramen for table no.9!” or “Prepare the order please!” is one of the magnetic appeal of this restaurant. The customers on the day that I visited were about 60% western, and 40% Asian. The woman roughly in her 50s with sunglasses on her head who was enjoying a glass of beer and “Shiromaru-Classic” said she lives in New York, and told me smiling, how she had Ramen here whenever she was in Manhattan, and that although there are more Ramen restaurants in NY, she still prefers the open-ness of the place.
IPPUDO WEST SIDE, Where Customers Can Also Enjoy the Best Cup of Espresso
The second venue, IPPUDO WESTSIDE opened in 2013 along the West 51 Street approximately 20 minutes by subway and foot from the first restaurant in East Village. The waiting bar right by the entrance, visible from the street, is equipped with a FAEMA espresso machine, and customers can enjoy an espresso brewed from beans roasted by the Brooklyn Roasting Company (BRC) for only 3 dollars per cup. Latte is 4 dollars by cup. The coffee is brew with love by the staff at Ippudo who learned directly from the BRC barista, and is of such high quality and exudes such happy aroma that one forgets he/she is in a Ramen shop. Another wonderful surprise is that the apron worn by the barista was made especially by Ralph Lauren’s vintage line, RRL. Although many customers wait to be seated while having this cup, the number of customers who come in just for the coffee take-out is also on the increase. The tables behind the waiting bar are separated into two zones. While the area with the U shaped counter and high tables are suited for people who want to relax with a group, the customers at the low table were enjoying the traditional and individual Japanese dishes.
“THE JAPANESE” : the Common Menu Concept between the two Restaurants.
What differentiates Ippudo from the other Ramen restaurants in New York is that chose the style of “Ramen dining,” where customers can enjoy their Ramen together with alcoholic beverages and bar snacks, and which has gained much support locally. The signature appetizers include Ippudo buns, chicken wings, salad, and US wagyu tataki. The menu also features edamame, exploding tofu, tuna tartar, sukiyaki, and skewered pork ribs, and a wide selection of drinks including 6 Japanese beers, 4 wines, 4 shochu, plum wine, and 17 brands of sake. The grand menu was changed drastically in 2016, to provide even more authentically Japanese choice of food and beverage. As for the Ramen, in addition to Shiromaru Classic and Akamaru Modern, and Karaka Spicy served also in Japan, there is the “Nirvana” line that uses no animal ingredients whatsoever. Akamaru New York ($16) that looks exactly like Akamaru Modern uses no animal ingredients, and is topped with fried tofu slice instead of pork slice. Take one sip of the soup, and the flavor of sesame spreads in your mouth. Although like a lighter version of the dan-dan-mian soup, it is full of umami – thus the name, Nirvana (state of enlightenment free of worldly desires). Also popular are the Ippudo buns. So popular that they are constantly ranked among “the buns to try in NY,” there are 3 choices including pork, chicken, and vegetarian. Today I chose vegetarian ($8 for two buns), which was featured in BuzzFeed’s list of food vegetarians in NY should eat before they die. The buns feature battered and fried eggplant and mushroom, and the filling being so meaty, juicy, and with texture that almost reminds one of meat, many customers say that they find it more satisfying than meat. Having choices ready for customers with a wide variety of stances or preferences led to popularity among a wide variety of customers.
The News Style of Ramen Bar Born in New York – KURO-OBI-
Ramen bar KURO-OBI is an attempt to popularize Ramen in a style totally different from Ippudo. It was launched in Manhattan New York in 2015, and is open in 3 locations at the moment. Since Ippudo is known among New Yorkers as a restaurant with “full service, long queue, and a bit of the extraordinary,” KURO-OBI was launched as a reasonable Ramen Bar with a compact counter style venue for enjoying Ramen daily, with menu that can be prepared in about 3 minutes after ordering. The soup is a creamy chicken bai-tang, with medium thickness noodles. The menu is classified by colors, including black belt, red belt, white belt, and yellow belt. The first venue was opened in the “City Kitchen” food court on the 2nd floor of the stylish Row NYC hotel. In the February of the next year, the 2nd bar opened in the food court, “URBAN SPACE” underneath the elevated railroad beside the Grand Central station. The 3rd bar opened in May of 2017, in the stylish food hall along the Canal Street with general goods shop and eateries, between China town and SoHo.
A wide variety of eateries line up in URBAN SPACE beside the 2nd KURO-OBI bar, including donuts, pizza, sushi burrito, soup, tacos, lobster rolls, and cold pressed juice, all with a food-truck like setup. The bar diversified their menu by adding the vegetarian type miso ramen “yellow belt” in June of 2017, made without using chicken. Although many office workers lined up to eat at KURO-OBI, the staff worked briskly in the compact space of the booth, and the dishes were handed one after another. While some choose to eat at the shared table standing, looking at their smartphones, I was told quite a few order to go. Office workers crossing the street briskly and quite naturally with the bag with the cup inside to eat lunch in the office to save time shows how popular RAMEN has become in New York.
WORDS by TOMOHIKO HARA
After going through many trials and errors using various overseas and domestic techniques in order to create a brand that everybody desperately wants at large and small advertising agencies, I started working in the food industry due to my appetite for food. I joined CHIKARANOMOTO group in 2013 and I am working hard to spread what is good about Japanese food and culture to the world. My favorite word is “#You can create work that is interesting”.