There is a new Ramen Master in town serving up a gourmet twist on the college classic.
General Manager Don Braddy says the shop was not inspired by the “corporation ramen” that are seen in American supermarkets, but rather by the original birthplace of the ramen noodle: Japan.
“Ramen stands in Tokyo are kind of like Starbucks here; there’s like one on every corner, and it’s one of the most popular quick-serve foods in Japan,” Braddy said.
A tricky challenge for Ramen Master has been its “design your own bowl” business model. Unlike in Japan where each noodle stand specializes in a certain style of noodle, broth and toppings, Ramen Master offers customers over 160 dish combinations from their two bowl sizes, three types of noodle and broth, and various proteins and seasonal vegetables for toppings. Braddy says the most popular dish so far is the chasu (slow-cooked pork) with the tonkatsu (pork) broth.
“We want to keep it locally owned and locally driven,” Braddy said. “And we want to focus on ramen because ramen is what it’s all about. There’s a lot of zen and spirituality to making ramen, and we hope to learn more about that.”
The opening of an Asian-style cuisine has been a learning experience for Ramen Master Chef Matt Manuel, who had traditional western kitchen experience for over six years.
“Especially the Wok,” Manuel said about the most unfamiliar tool in his new workspace. “Because I’ve never worked with anything like that before.”
Despite the unfamiliarity, Manuel says he is eager to learn the new kitchen because ramen is one of his favorite foods to prepare and eat.
In December Manuel was a part of the crew that restored the kitchen after the Tiapan Restaurant occupied the space for 13 years.
“Cleaning was a really big challenge,” Manuel said. “They had to have an industrial cleaning crew come in and blast everything down.”
At first trial and error was necessary to make the order-to-delivery transition smooth from the back to the front of the shop. Kai Powell, who runs the front end of the floor, taking and delivering orders, says at the beginning there was a “bottleneck” from the front to the back, when the front was constructing orders while the back did prep work for the meats and proteins.
“But the problem with that is how long it takes to cook the Ramen,” Powell said. “You don’t want our customers standing and waiting three to five minutes waiting before they can get all their vegetables and stuff in there.”
With the fast-casual business model, efficiency is the priority, but Powell says the store is experimenting with the process to make it perfect.
“Every single day it’s a new step,” said Powell. “So pretty much where we’ve got it now is up front will do the orders and the individual vegetables. A little printout on our sheet makes the back of the house so much smoother.”
Powell says his reason for joining Ramen Master is to keep the Eastern-style dish present in Colorado.
“There used to be a place in Denver called Oshima Ramen which was one of my favorite places to go,” Powell said. “They shut down one or two years ago while I was out of state so I came back and found out there was no ramen shop. So that was my biggest reason for why I wanted to work here in the first place—I wanted to help Colorado get another ramen shop.”
The Ramen Master had its grand opening Feb. 2 at its 144 N Mason St. location.
Collegian A&E Writer Sierra Cymes can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @sierra_cymes.