From Hakata to the World: the Secret of the “Japanese Wonder” IPPUDO NY Continues to Roll Out
I would like to spread the word “RAMEN” to the world
It is General Manager Fumihiro Kanegae who supervises the entire business at IP NY. We interviewed Mr. Kanegae who was born in 1971 and grew up in Morooka, Hakata. His solid build from a judo background and his long hair is his trademark.
It all started by learning about flour from a milling company
Mr. Kanegae from Fukuoka has first dan in judo, plays a guitar in a rock band, able to service motorbikes and can talk about the finer principles of bread and ramen. In 1990, when he was working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in Fukuoka, he me the founder of IPPUDO, Mr. Kawahara. Five years have passed since IPPUDO started business in 1985 and there are 10 stores in Osaka and Tokyo. To further expand its business, they were preparing to open a new noodle and soup factory in Sanno area. Although Mr. Kanegae had experience in food manufacturing, he had no experience in making noodles and soup and he was assigned to the product development department. After starting work, he was given an idea from Mr. Kawahara of the kind of noodle that was required, but it seems there were many hurdles to overcome to actually make it. “It is faster if we ask a professional in that field!” Mr. Kanegae thought and he frequented a milling company and he learned about what a flour is from the basics. This man who has a temperament of a craftsman who would solve any difficult problems with his inquisitive mind as long as he understands the principle would be invited to participate in various projects from then on as well.
Mr. Kanegae would be called to solve important and difficult issues such as creating a ramen at “Ramen for all seasons”, a one day only event. That is where IPPUDO creates the one and only ramen every quarter. He would also carry out product development consulting to external parties and launch and operate a ramen shop in Shanghai which took 4 years as well as rebuild a bakery business in Fukuoka. With his original ideas and meticulous work, he would find a solution to all of them. The driving force were his curiosity which made him think that the unexplored is what is interesting, the hate to lose attitude he possessed and his strong sense of mission wanting to somehow help his coworkers difficult situation at work.
It was in 2007, one year before IPPUDO was to open when he was asked to go to NY. Going to Manhattan to prepare for an opening of a shop as a member of our product development team, although there was a space for the shop, there was no gas, equipment nor did they have any suppliers. The only thing that was brought from Japan was soy sauce. Everything including flour, pig bones and vegetables were to be sourced locally but people kept rejecting them saying “they cannot do business with a newcomer to New York”. How did they manage to open shop after being rejected by everyone so many times? When I asked him that he would laugh it off and say “Well, it somehow works out in the end”. He does not see the past but only now and the future.
“Ramen is not a national food of America so it is not as simple as hamburger or steak. That is why I thought it would be nice to have the word “Ramen” known to everyone, be used casually and in the end, appear in an American dictionary in detail. Also, it would be interesting if various Americans created their own “RAMEN”. They cannot step off the beaten track themselves so of course they are not very flexible. But if an American chef made it he would come up with coffee flavor (laugh) and something outright different. Having seen that with my own eyes, I felt seriously that we were still trying to force the Japanese way of making ramen to them. That is why we are spreading and disseminating the immense possibility of RAMEN.
I would like to give my staff a present of skills that will make them survive in this town
Many people think that the work of Japanese staff like Mr. Kanegae being assigned an overseas posting is “someone who makes ramen overseas” but that cannot be further from the truth. The work of those appointed overseas is “Market development”, so to speak. Their mission is to create a ramen shop loved by the locals with local staffs, open more shops and to grow and create history. Mr. Kanegae, as the president of IP NY. LLC, a local subsidiary in New York, would travel around to find the next location to open store with his workmates from Japan and would keep an eye out on the restaurant industry in Manhattan that is changing by the minute and create an environment where staff can work comfortably.
The daily operation of the shop will be handled by Japanese/American managers hired locally. A manager would be in charge of their own area of responsibility such as the dining area, cooking and manufacturing. At the daily morning meeting where every staff attends, issues and matters noticed by each department is shared and each staff would give their ideas so that it would lead to more customers being satisfied. I understand that doing these things daily maintain quality of IPPUDO and hence lead to greater expectation from our customers.
The last thing Mr. Kanegae spoke about was the love towards his local staffs. “Even if they were to quit IPPUDO one day, I always feel that I would like to give them a present of the skill to open their own store. In fact, a staff who could not even use a knife in the beginning is now able to do a lot of cooking. For example, customer service skill, making soup and noodles and making coffee. Having worked at IPPUDO will benefit them in the future. I always feel like giving them such a gift.
Looking to such a future, IPPUDO is currently preparing to open its third New York shop in 5th avenue. I am so excited to find what kind of JAPANESE WONDER they are going to show us next.
Pick up! These are the staffs who support IPPUDO NY
Returned to Japan in April 2017
He became our full-time staff having worked part time at IPPUDO Dazaifu Interchange shop and having experienced making noodles and soup and setting up new shops, he went to New York. “I’ve began to take things slowly after coming to New York. In the restaurant business things never stop so you won’t last if you overdo things. If you make a mistake all you need to do is to change the way you do it. Things change so all you need to do is do what you can do, at that moment, one thing at a time. I began to think this way”. After returning to Japan, I am working hard every day making use of what I have learned in America so that work at stores will be more interesting. For example, like the IPPUDO stand project in Fukuoka.
Transferred from London to New York in March 2017I started working for this company because I studied French at university and wanted to work in Paris. Because I belonged to a baseball club I was physically very fit and so after only 3 months of joining the company I was sent to New York to help out. After that I was made in charge of IPPUDO in Korea and later went to London and while studying very hard there learning about EU-HACCP, a very strict hygiene standard, I manufactured noodles for 3 years and spent every day selling noodles that I manufactured to local ramen shops. Currently, I am pushing forward further structuring based on my knowledge and experience of HACCP while supervising locally hired managers in NY.
WORDS and PHOTOS 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”.