Aiming to be the world’s best tonkotsu ramen specialty restaurant chain, pouring passion into a bowl of ramen
2017-10-27
Aiming to be th...

Aiming to be th...

Aiming to be th...

Aiming to be th...

Aiming to be th...

Aiming to be th...

By Aya Ota

ICHIRAN” is a natural tonkotsu ramen specialty restaurant chain. Their headquarters are in Hakata, in the Fukuoka Prefecture, and has developed 68 restaurants all over Japan. This company claims themselves to be “the preeminent company researching tonkotsu ramen”, and they narrow down to offer only one type of ramen in the menu. The soup made with 100% tonkotsu (pork-bonebase stock) using special high skills has no unpleasant smell, and “Hiden no Tare (Spicy Red Sauce)” floats in the middle of each bowl. Those are some of the results of the daily study of 40-plus expert artisans in the efforts to try and create true tonkotsu ramen, insisting to use high-quality food ingredients. While the menu is pretty much narrowed down, they provide a special customizing form to respond to each customer’s preferences. On the form, customers can make optional adjustments from the following 7 categories: “Dashi”, “Richness”, “Garlic”, “Scallions”, “Charshu/ Sliced Pork:, “Hiden no Tare /Spicy Red Sauce”. The most unique system they offer must be the way to eat such a particularly-made bowl of ramen; you eat in an individual space separated from the next seat called “the flavor-concentration booth”. After submitting your customization form, and your ramen arrives, the little bamboo blind that hangs in front of you closes, so you can be relaxed, and really concentrate on your ramen. If you want to order extra noodles (kaedama), or a drink, you do not need to call out, but to merely push the call button.

As for their development overseas, they opened the first North American restaurant in Brooklyn, New York in October of 2016 following Hong Kong in 2013. During the preparation period, many doubted if American customers would be willing to eat alone in an individual space. Moreover, the location is not easily accessible, and the region is still under development. It was chosen to also build a factory nearby to be the base of the future development to have more restaurants. Some wondered if people would be willing to go to such a place just to eat ramen. Some thought that $20 for a bowl of ramen would sound too expensive even including tips.

“I was only half-convinced about succeeding at the beginning, but now I feel certainty. I think the same taste, service, and the atmosphere as in Japan are well received in the US,” says Satoshi Komaya, General Manager. More than 100 people formed a line on opening day, and the restaurant has now grown to have people waiting for hours to get in on weekends. Mr. Komaya analyzes the reason for their success in acquiring customers as follows; “Our brand power established in Japan and Hong Kong has been diffused and permeated through SNS such as Instagram and Facebook.” Just like in Japan, they serve only one kind of ramen.

The key ingredients such as the Hiden no Tare and dashi are directly imported from Japan. Other ingredients are locally procured, so it took about 10 years to prepare in order to replicate the same taste locally. They offer only one appetizer and one dessert, and for alcoholic drinks, there are only three; beer, matcha beer, and Japanese sake. The reason for this careful line of selection is only one and the biggest, which is nothing but offering a good match to the ramen. I thought the matcha beer had been selected to take advantage of the matcha boom and be unique; however, it was not the case. It had been specially developed from deep thinking about how well it would match with ramen. “The flavor-concentration booth” is very well accepted, and receives much better comments than other table seating arrangement. Many people say things like, “My sense of taste felt sharper, and I was very impressed!” I believe that all those experiences create added value, and make people willing to wait in line no matter how inconvenient the access is, how long they have to wait, or how expensive ($20) a bowl of ramen is. One change they made to suit New York life style is the table called “Ichiran Yatai”. Most of the customers use “the flavor-concentration booths”, and average length of stay is as short as half an hour. So people started to use this table as a bar to enjoy appetizers and sake with friends before or after eating ramen.

Mr. Komaya predicts, “From now on, ramen restaurants in the US will probably branch out in two ways; specialty restaurants utilizing Japanlike styles, and those which are more locally adopted. So far, what’s spreading in the US is the type of ramen restaurant which serves various dishes and sake in addition to ramen to enjoy varieties. I am certain that “Ichiran” is the kind that can aim for the best in the world as a ramen specialty restaurant,” He also says that the factory has ample producing capacity, and a plan to have more restaurants in the US is under consideration.


一杯のラーメンに情熱を注ぎ込み、とんこつラーメン専門店として世界一を目指す

天然とんこつラーメン専門店『一蘭』。福岡県博多に本店を置き、日本各地に約68店舗を展開する。「とんこつラーメンを世界一研究する会社」と謳う同社では、メニューをラーメン1 種類に絞り込む。高度な特殊製法で作った“100%豚骨で全く臭みなく仕上げたスープ” や、丼の中央に浮かべた“ 元祖・赤い秘伝のタレ” をはじめ、安全で高品質の食材にこだわり、40 人もの熟練職人が日々研究を重ねて、本物のとんこつラーメン作りを極めている。メニューを特化した一方で、客の微妙な好みの違いに応えるために、専用オーダー用紙を用意。「味の濃さ」「こってり度」「にんにく」「チャーシュー」「秘伝のたれ」の7 項目を調整できる仕組みを提供している。最も独特な点は、そのこだわりの一杯を、隣席と仕切った空間「味集中カウンター」で食べることだろう。専用オーダー用紙を提出し、ラーメンが運ばれてきた後は、目の前の簾も閉められ、周囲を気にすることなく、リラックスした状態でラーメンに集中する。替え玉やドリンクの追加注文時も、一切言葉を発する必要はなく、呼び出しボタンを押すだけでいい。

海外展開は2013 年の香港に続き、初の北米店としてニューヨークのブルックリン地区に2016 年10 月に開店。準備段階から「米国人が、個室で、一人でラーメンを食べるのか」との声も多かった。また、立地条件は、アクセスが不便で発展途上の地域。多店舗展開の拠点として工場併設のために選んだ立地だが「こんな場所に、わざわざラーメンを食べに行く人がいるか」と疑う声もあった。チップ込みとは言え「ラーメン1杯20ドルなんて高すぎる」という反応もあった。  

「当初は、自分自身も半信半疑だったが、確かな手応えを感じている。日本と全く同じ味、サービス、雰囲気が米国でも受け入れられている。」と語るのは、同店のジェネラル・マネージャー、米屋聡氏。開店初日には100 人以上が行列、今や、週末には数時間待ちが続く店に成長した。「日本や香港で確立したブランド力が、インスタグラムやフェイスブックなどSNSを通して、国境を越えて拡散・浸透している」と米屋氏は集客成功要因を分析する。日本同様、ラーメンは1 種類のみ。秘伝のタレや出汁などキーとなる食品は日本から直輸入するが、それ以外は現地食材で同じ味を再現すべく、約10 年の準備期間を費やした。前菜もデザートも各1 種類、アルコールもビール、抹茶ビール、日本酒の3 種類しかない。“ ラーメンに合う” という唯一にして最大の理由で厳選された内容だ。抹茶ビールは、近年の抹茶ブームに便乗し奇をてらったメニューかと思いきや、ラーメンとの相性を考え抜いて特別開発されたものだ。「味集中カウンター」も好評で、テーブル席を利用した客よりも、圧倒的に評価が高く「味覚が研ぎ澄まされ、感動した」などの声が多いそうだ。これらすべての体験が付加価値となり、
アクセスが不便であろうが、長時間待とうが、1杯20ドルだろうが、客は列を作るのだろう。ひとつ、ニューヨークらしい変化を遂げたのが「一蘭屋台」と呼ばれるテーブル席。多くの客が「味集中カウンター」を利用し、また平均滞在時間は30 分と短いため、ラーメンを食べる前後に、仲間と共につまみや酒を楽しむバーとして活用されるようになったという。  
 
「今後、米国のラーメンは、日本らしさを生かした専門店と、現地化した店に、二分化していくのではないか」と米屋氏。「これまで米国で広がってきたのは、ラーメンを中心にいろいろな料理や酒を楽しめる“ ラーメン・レストラン”。一蘭は“ ラーメン専門店” として世界一を目指せると確信している」と続ける。現在の工場は十分な生産能力もあるため、店舗を拡大する計画も考察中とのことだ。



ICHIRAN
374 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11206
(718) 381-0491
https://en.ichiran.com/

Everyday 11:00am-11:00pm
Weekday (Monday to Friday)
11:00am-6:00pm

[counter-seats] 6:00pm-11:00pm

[counter-seats & ICHIRAN Yatai seats]
Weekend (Saturday and Sunday) 11:00am-11:00pm

[counter-seats & ICHIRAN Yatai seats]
(Last call 10:30pm)


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