The Fukuoka-based ramen-ya chain—famed for thick, porky tonkotsu ramen dimpled with a fiery red pepper sauce and a strict no phone, no talking policy in its “flavor concentration booths”—opens tomorrow with the first outpost in the Western hemisphere, right in New York City’s Bushwick neighborhood.
“See how the flour is mixed with water, then churned in the machine,” said Hana Isoda, Ichiran’s international marketing and development manager, of the noodles. The noodles are made in a production kitchen attached to the Bushwick location, only the second production kitchen outside of the original Fukuoka one. And today is the first time ever Ichiran has let cameras inside its kitchens to film the noodle making process. “The machines continually thin out the dough, three or four times, but the actual settings are a secret. We’re not allowed to reveal it.”
Secrecy surrounds Ichiran, from the specially made noodle machine shipped straight from Japan to the iconic red sauce. “Four people in the world know the recipe,” Isoda says. “And they’re not allowed to travel to together.” But that’s what makes Ichiran Ichiran, and that attention to detail and deep reverence for the recipe enables all 62 locations to sling the exact same bowl of ramen, and rapidly.
“We produce 1,000 servings of noodles an hour,” Isoda says. “But easily we could make 8,000 servings.”
She’s not hinting at anything here: The 23-year-old chain is building an empire in the U.S. Ichiran has sent five people from its fold to New York, each with two- to three-year visas, in the hopes of opening four to 10 locations within a three-hour drive of the production kitchen. The next will be in Manhattan next year.
“We want to show that we’re not like any other ramen chain,” Isoda says. “Our goal is to keep and maintain the same authenticity everywhere. So when you come to Ichiran in Fukuoka, Hong Kong or New York, you’re going to get the same quality and taste.