Chez Panisse alumni try ramen in Rockridge
on March 12, 2013
The storefront is simple—black tinted windows with bamboo shades and the words “Ramen Shop” emblazoned in white on the front door. No Japanese characters, no large flags.
Inside, the restaurant is buzzing. The lights are low, with a red paper lantern hanging from the ceiling. Music beats in the background. Customers crowd the bar at the front of the space. The wait time is an hour and a half. It’s a Thursday.
Welcome to Ramen Shop, the newest addition to the Rockridge eating scene. Since its opening January 4, the restaurant has been well received by food critics at the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express and San Francisco Grubstreet, a site reporting daily food news.
Ramen Shop is run and co-owned by Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman and Sam White, three alumni from Chez Panisse, the famed Berkeley restaurant known for its seasonal and organic ingredients.
The Rockridge restaurant bills itself on its website as “a purveyor of artistic, organic and sustainable ramen in Oakland.” Types of ramen sold at the eatery include a vegetable miso ramen and shoyu (soy sauce) Meyer lemon ramen—variations on the traditional ramen found at Japanese shops.
“We’re not trying to replicate a kind of authentic Japanese ramen,” White said. “We’re really trying to make a style of food with our own take on it, which I’m kind of happy about.”
Ramen has become the new trendy food, with noodle-specific shops opening everywhere in the East Bay, South Bay and San Francisco. In Oakland alone, a Yelp search for “ramen” turns up dozens of results.
“It’s a very personalized eating experience in a way that having a burrito is having a personalized eating experience—this bowl in front of you is your bowl,” White said of ramen. “I think people really respond to that. It is not meant to be too fancy or exclusive—it’s meant to be for anybody.”
Yet, prices at Ramen Shop don’t run cheap. A single bowl of ramen with ground pork belly is $15. Ramen at smaller shops in San Jose start at $7.99.
The price elicited some complaints on Yelp (“Their portion is just verging on the minimalist ramen, and for these being priced at $15/bowl, I would have expected more but am sadly disappointed.”). Other customers dining there on a recent weekend didn’t seem to mind.
“I don’t think the price they charge is too much for really great food,” said Maria Rowcliffe, an Oakland resident who has been to Ramen Shop twice, most recently this Sunday. Speaking outside the restaurant, she said she enjoys the fish the best—the bold flavors remind her of her native Swedish fish.
The restaurant’s choice of ingredients drives the prices, White said. “If you’re going to create a bowl of ramen, it seems crazy to bring stuff from around the world when we have so many amazing ingredients here,” he said.
Ramen Shop gets its produce fresh from local farms or famers markets—seaweed from Mendocino, sardines from just outside the Golden Gate and flour for the noodles from local and organic producers.
Because of the focus on freshness, the restaurant goes through a lot of produce and those costs are high, White said. Add to that the cost of alcohol for the bar, and White said he and his fellow owners are “in the midst of balancing” their profits out with a bookkeeper. He said it was too soon to disclose details on sales or profitability.
“I definitely don’t think we’re losing money,” White said, adding that the restaurant’s popularity is “super positive.”
For White, an Oakland native who still lives in the area, the response from his home city to his business has been encouraging. “It’s an educated food culture—people are willing to spend a couple more bucks if they know that food is coming from sustainable farmers that are local, rather than MSG flavor packets,” he said. “I’m actually super proud of the fact that Oakland is basically voting with their dollars to support a more sustainable food system.”
He added, “I hear a lot from people about ‘Oh, this is Oakland?’ Yeah, this is Oakland—Oakland is kind of cool now.”
Maria Marshall, a Concord resident, came to Ramen Shop with her sister, Diane Repulles, an Oakland resident, who had been there before. “Concord has a million ramen places, but none that looks like that,” Marshall said, referring to Ramen Shop.
The décor is fancy, yet minimalistic. A vase of blossoming flowers sits atop the front bar, where the only decorations are dozens of glass bottles of alcohol and a large mirror reflecting the interior. Diners pass underneath a wooden doorframe with a blue awning to be seated at simple wooden tables or at the wooden noodle bar right in front of the kitchen.
Her sister, Repulles, chimed in. “As you’re walking out, it’s almost like walking out of a club,” she said. “It’s a really happening place. It’s good ramen, high-end ramen, and everything is delicious.”
The business venture is all about a new take on the traditional Japanese food, even going back to its simple name: “Ramen Shop.”
“A lot of people named Japanese names, but in the end … we’re not actually Japanese,” White said of the name’s orgin. “We’re California kids. ‘Ramen Shop’ felt the most straightforward. For people who know ramen and get excited by ramen, that alone should pull you in.”
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