Above: Servers Warom (left) and Rainbow (right) providing Omotenashi, or optimal guest service
Shigemi Kawahara, the “Ramen King,” embarks on his 34th year overseeing 200+ Ippudo restaurants worldwide. The original Ippudo launched in Fukuoka, Japan on October 16, 1985. Since then, Ippudos have made their way to the U.S., Philippines, U.K., China, Sydney, and beyond. All for one thing – ramen.
It’s easy to see why ramen’s all the rage after speaking with Inae Yi, the general manager of Ippudo San Francisco. Working up from serving to general management within 2 years reflects the drive and dedication of Ippudo’s staff. Yi’s knowledge about all things Ippudo makes the restaurant an easy choice – even before trying the food.
Yi explains how Ippudo’s revolutionized the otherwise simple Japanese dish. She explains, “In Japan, [ramen’s] a staple…soul food. [It] wasn’t well known [here].” Yi continues, “Ippudo was introduced to New York in 2008. That was the first international one. The ramen trend blew up after that.” Ippudo came to Berkley in 2017 followed by Ippudo San Francisco the next year.
Yi mentions that Ippudo’s reputation followed them to their present location. “A lot of people have heard about New York’s Ippudo…” Yi mentions, so San Francisco quickly became the new go-to ramen place.
Ippudo itself means “one wind hall,” reflecting the sweeping change it’s made on the globe’s perception of ramen. Yi elaborates, “Ippudo’s purpose is to provide a cool environment. Previously, ramen was considered street food, not what you imagine today. All stores are created uniquely…the wooden Ippudo name boards are hand-carved by [Kawahara’s] brother. No two stores look the same.”
Yi stresses the ramen dining experience as much as the ramen itself. That involves the restaurant design and the smiling employees it houses. The Ippudo environment radiates Omotenashi, a core principle at Ippudo. Yi explains, “This is the heart of Japanese customer service…this is what we train everyone on our team to deliver.”
It makes sense why Ippudo’s known for its out-the-door lines. In fact, that’s exactly what led Yi to apply there in the first place. Now being on the other side, Yi contributes to educating guests and revolutionizing ramen for everyone.
The Ramen Experience
Yi breaks down their quality ramen bowls, which consist of 5 main components: broth, noodles, dashi, oil, and toppings. Their signature Hakata—or creamy pork-based ramen—presents an opportunity for guests to expand their understanding of ramen. Ramen can be known as a chicken-based broth or simple street food, so Ippudo brings these noodles to the next level.
Whereas other restaurants may prefer keeping their signature secrets, Yi’s excited to share what makes Ippudo’s food special and get feedback about it. She mentions, “I really enjoy receiving feedback. A lot of people don’t know they can give [it] to us. We take that very seriously…any improvements we can make…any suggestions people have. We do our best to cater to the community we have around us.”
The best restaurants are ones who listen to their guests, and Ippudo does that in spades. Ippudo San Francisco’s set to launch a discount for the community soon, so keep an eye out on social media for the juicy details!
Ippudo Inside Out
Since COVID-19, Ippudo’s experienced an inversion in their restaurant philosophy. Yi explains that ramen culture comes with “a sense of urgency to eat.” The goal’s to “eat it then and there as quickly as you can…because that’s when it tastes the best.” Yi names how people can “get caught up in sharing our experiences…” so eating ramen encourages people to be with the food and its warmth with immediacy.
Now, Ippudo’s offering takeout for the first time ever. Yi emphasizes that it’s a “huge philosophy change,” but they are working “to provide a great experience for our guests…[all the while] doing the best we can to uphold [the culture] and stay true to what we believe in.”
Alas, the Ippudo crew’s embracing the challenge brilliantly, as they’ve decided to offer their noodles raw for people to cook them at home instead of having them cooked to-go. Yi reiterates, “For our food, we look for ways in which we can deliver our ramen so guests can try to replicate the quality they’d experience dining in.” Now, guests can still experience Ippudo’s food quickly and warmly – as it’s meant to be eaten.
Despite the philosophy shift, Yi’s transparent about the Ippudo team enjoying what they do and “spreading the warmth of ramen” in whatever way they can. The optimism’s obvious as Yi reminds us that “…it’s hard right now but remember to stay hopeful. It’s easy to get gloomy about what’s going on but we’re all gonna do the best we can…”
Everyone needs warmth and comfort right now. Support Ippudo San Francisco to see how your ramen bowl will gift you exactly that.