100 day feast

I’m grappling with the fact that my full imaginary menu won’t be ready this week. Still trying to finalize toppings for the Future Chuukasoba and I haven’t had time to touch the Miso. With limited kitchen time (due to the shared space) and the struggle to maintain the noodle business, I think it’s better to start out slow.

Tomiz will be open tomorrow. And tomorrow will be the day to see exactly what I will be dealing with when the proposed switchover from lunch shift to dinner shift will occur. But I also have to take my daughter to school in the morning and make noodles. Oh man, I feel like I’m getting in over my head. Somehow, this self torture makes everything feel normal.

Today we also celebrated our 100 day old son with a tradition called お食い初め (okuizome), a ritual to promote healthy eating as he eventually transitions to solid foods.

He liked the new ramen the best. #future👋

Finally some kitchen time

I had a dream last night that I fed a regular customer my new recipe and they hated it. They begged and begged for me to go back to something from the old menu. I woke up in a sweat! Haha. For weeks now I’ve just been imaging what the new bowl of ramen would taste like, look like, smell like and going through plenty of different iterations in my head without even knowing if they would actually work.

With Tomiz starting to come together nicely, it was finally my turn to get some quality kitchen time. Remember, I’ve never made this recipe before and I’m just semi-blindly going off of what I’ve seen in old ramen books with snippets of Eifukucho Taishoken’s recipe. Here goes!

Woah.

Now that’s golden!

I’m speechless. That was pretty damn close to ET sans pork.

Anxious times

I have a lot to do but can’t do it yet. The more I think about all the scenarios, the more I begin to stress about all the possible outcomes. Less than a week away from soft open and I still haven’t committed to a menu. Partly because I haven’t been able to test it yet, but also because I can’t. Hopefully tomorrow will be the day I can get into the kitchen and just grind. Fingers crossed.

No tonkotsu. That part of my mind is made up. Chicken Chintan will be the main soup for the shoyu ramen but it will be like no other stock I’ve made before. My goal is to make an Eifukucho Taishoken style shoyu without using any pork bones or lard. But I can’t really say much else. I don’t know how it will end up looking either. Most likely simple. No truffle, no sous vide chashu, no fancy garnishes. Just old-school-inspired future–the rebirth of shoyu.

The plan is to also have a vegetarian option and a Tsukemen option but those may not be ready in time for soft open. Or will they? Like I said, so many questions.

The bowls are custom made from Japan. I actually had them ordered before I closed shack in March and never got to use them. Now I get to use them.

And these are the noodles of the future.

Ramen Shack Gold: The Concept

It’s 2020 so why not go for the gold! A big part of this Tomiz collaboration happening is because of my long-time designer friend, Yoshiaki Takao, who has worked on the design for almost every restaurant I’ve been involved with, thought that Ramen Shack would be perfect here. Thanks Yoshi san!

Artist rendering.

In theory, Tomiz will be a cafe and bakery during the day and change into Ramen Shack at night with the cafe side still operational, meaning you can continue to purchase bakery goods and beverages and yes the matcha soft serve too. On weekends we will share the space for lunch and dinner.

Artist rendering.

So why Ramen Shack Gold? Honestly, I’m not so sure. Haha. When I was in Japan a few weeks ago, Yoshi San and I were discussing a different color logo that would match the Tomiz interior. So inspired by some Edo period black and gold signs I saw in Tokyo, I played around with making the shack logo similar. And once I did it just looked too perfect.

My next challenge will be to create a new menu and start from scratch. Sure, I can just make the menu that everyone fell in love with before, but I think it’s time for a change. A time to create a new story for this sequel of a shack. Yeah it could flop, but I’ll learn a lot in the process. Are you ready?

Hello 2020

2020 will begin with plenty of questions. Hopefully, I will find the answers. And hopefully I can do a better job of documenting the journey.

On January 16, 2020 Ramen Shack will begin a new adventure inside TOMIZ (a cafe formerly known as Zaiya). In my heart, I feel this partnership will be long lasting and vital for my business future. Most of the time you just gotta go with your heart and face the challenges as they come. I seem to be good at that, but I’ve had my fair share of mistakes.

TomizShackHours202001

For the time being, this will be the schedule for January unless my menu testing doesn’t go as planned. Yes, I’m trying to work on an all new menu for this location and one main difference from the past popups will be the absence of tonkotsu. Many of you who have come to love the variety of what ramen shack in queens offered will raise a brow and yearn for something from the past, but this is the challenge that I have chosen to take for myself. Obviously, if I don’t like the direction it goes, then I might lean back on something more familiar. So let’s try to be patient and enjoy the newest evolution.

The meltdown

This was a trying week, but lately it seems like they all are. Between employees trying to hold the company hostage to events being canceled due to extreme heat, this is life. So why not enjoy the view?

View from Randall’s Island looking towards Manhattan.

I should be panicking but how can I when there’s still hope of the next bowl being better than the last.

Duck Tsukemen from Shuya Cafe de Ramen and Josh Reisner pop up featuring Shimamoto Noodle.

Now that was amazing!

The conundrum

Imagine a ramen shop with 10 seats that sells 100 bowls a day. 100 bowls of ramen equates to roughly 35 liters (9.2 gallons) of soup. To make and yield this amount of soup we would need one stock pot burner range and one 80L (21.1 gal) stock pot. For simplicity, we will be making chintan and our recipe takes a total of 8 hours from start to finish. Of course, there is much more prep involved than just soup but for now let’s not worry about it.

Your shop opens at 11am but you start prepping your soup for tomorrow at 8am. (Today’s soup was prepped yesterday.) Let’s say your shop closes at 5pm so you have 6 hours to sell 100 bowls at an average of 15 bowls an hour (1.5 turns in your 10 seat shop). It doesn’t seem like a lot but now imagine you are doing this all by yourself without any help. The soup will finish around 4pm and the last hour of business will allow for cooling. At 6pm you are done cleaning up the shop and an extra hour would be for finishing up any miscellaneous prep required for the next day and/or admin work. You just worked an 11-hour day. And it wasn’t easy.

Without getting too much into the numbers ($), if this same size setup was put into a food hall where (including take out orders) there could be an infinite number of seats, how do you scale the business? Let’s say you now sell 500 bowls a day. Sure you can buy a bigger pot, but with the same equipment setup you are limited to making only double the amount you started with. You can also make 2 batches in one day, but that means you’ll be working more than 16 hours. And what if on a holiday you get a spike in business and somehow sell 1000 bowls? Do you hire a team to work all night long until morning to keep up? Or do you just buy some concentrated soup base and get a good nights rest?

In a big city where it is considered restaurant death when having to close early for running out of food, these shortcuts are often the only way to cope. In itself, it is not necessarily a bad thing if you still care about the food and maintain most of your intended integrity. But where it gets shady is when the customer doesn’t care too much about quality as much as they do status. If owners can get away with selling a lesser product at a cheaper overall cost without losing customers, they will most definitely do it.

So back to my point. The “golden age of ramen” in Japan led to many shops expanding and franchising and becoming more “manufactured” in the process. Tenka-Ippin is one example. Although these franchised shops would never be as good as the original, they came up with a system to consistently keep the same recognizable taste that customers grew to love. Ippudo and Ichiran are some more examples. The Japanese really became great at solving the issue of scalability, which in turn blew up the ramen scene even more. Nowadays, even the most popular shops in Tokyo will take these “manufactured secrets” and enhance what seems to be the next trend in the never-ending ramen boom.

For America, which is usually about a decade behind when Japanese trends cross over the Pacific Ocean, I feel like the “golden age of ramen” may never happen. Instead, these companies that have obtained huge success in Japan have already started to plant the seeds of manufactured growth. America is the best business model for it. It’s like injecting steroids into the ramen industry when it hasn’t even had a chance to grow and fully mature. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe this will prevent the ramen industry from ever reaching it’s full potential. I don’t know. But somehow, someway, something inside of me feels unsettled.

The reboot

Every minute, I think about ramen. It doesn’t stop. So I need to get a few things off my chest.

Ramen in America is booming, so they say. But is it really? With any type of “boom”, business takes precedence. The business of making money.

The current commercialization of ramen in America is essentially the gourmet version of instant ramen. Frozen stock, manufactured tare, generic noodles.

Running a ramen shop is grueling. Not only is it 10x more difficult than cooking a burger, the prep leading up to a bowl can be infinitely harder as well. So it’s hard to blame a shop for wanting to take shortcuts if it means more money.

To be continued.

The burnout

It’s real. As of this writing, I don’t know if I’ll ever own a ramen shop again. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I don’t think I have the heart to do it anymore.

The evolution of Ramen Shack was such a precious thing. The magic I discovered throughout the process will never be duplicated. And not to toot my own horn, but there will never be another ramen shop like it in America.

Ramen Shack did not fail. It did not close because it was losing money. It failed because it was losing me.

Failure is sometimes inevitable. My critics will say that I was destined for it. But they will never be able to stand in my shoes.

Thank you to all my fans and followers for keeping my dream alive for so long. It’s not the end. It just feels like it is.