IPPUDO: transforming THE RAMEN BUSINESS

In Asian Kitchens, Business Sense, Vol. 26


IPPUDO, a ramen restaurant with more than 250 stores worldwide, is one Japanese restaurant chain that is known for effectively catering to local tastes and customs across the world. In fact, what makes the ramen served at IPPUDO different from other establishments is the fact that customers are able to choose the texture of their noodles. Each bowl is prepared upon order and the noodles are boiled al-dente - a definite departure from the comparatively modest interior and menu offered at IPPUDO joints in Japan.

Mise En Place was privileged to gain some insights from the IPPUDO team based in Malaysia, so let’s find out more about them!

WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND IPUDDO?
The first IPPUDO store was only 36-square meters with 10 seats and was opened in Fukuoka City in 1985. Our founder, Shigemi Kawahara, had been managing a restaurant bar when he decided to create a stylish Ramen shop where "women can come and eat alone" with jazz music playing in the background. It was a concept quite different from other
ramen shops, which were patronised mostly by men as a norm back then.

As the 90's arrived, IPPUDO became nationally famous and its’ reputation expanded. Kawahara won 3 consecutive times as a Hall of Fame in a hit TV show "TV Champion" as the best Ramen master cook, then was crowned the "Ramen King" in the Ramen Hall of Fame in 2004. An ongoing project is spreading the phrase "zuzutto", an onomatopoeia of slurping noodles. While slurping is generally considered bad manners in the West, in Japan it enhances the flavour of the noodle dish.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED IN RUNNING THE RESTAURANT? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES?
Finding enough and adequate staff for all our restaurants is the hardest challenge we are facing right now, despite advertising recruitments on newspapers, social media and through word of mouth. Because the comfort of our guests is the highest priority for our restaurant, we are working closely with schools like Asiana Hospitality Academy by giving opportunities to students who are unable to afford their school fees but can learn and earn from working with us.

DO YOU THINK MENU AND EXPERIENCE DESERVE EQUAL ATTENTION?
We focus on both the experience, menu and more. Having a wide variety of choices from menu selections, seating, privacy, activities, and atmosphere allows us to cater to all of our different types of guests who dine at our stores. Our flagship store in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, I would say, covers both grounds. The store carries the strong stamp of IPPUDO's signature style and share the same "Matsuri" or "festival" theme that is distinct and inviting to the mass population. This store has boxed seats, a long sharing table, a Ramen bar counter, a VIP room, and outdoor seats to choose from.

As for the food and drinks, we would highly recommend our signature IPPUDO Pork Bun, Hakata-style Gyoza and of course, our ramen! Our Pork Bun and Gyoza are all time favourites around the world - juicy and perfect to have before ramen is served.


WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT THE JAPANESE FOOD CULTURE IN MALAYSIA?
Japanese food is steadily growing to be more acceptable in Malaysia. It used to be just sushi and sashimi but there are many new restaurants doing well that focus on other specialties like tendon, tsukemen, shabby shabu, donburi, etc. Locals are finding it to be very approachable and it is always going to be a cuisine that will be trending due to its rich history, the use of high quality ingredients, and its significance in pop culture and travel advertisements. We often have customers who dine at our stores and let us know about their experiences in our Japan stores. We look forward to being able to share our passions for ramen with more people.


AS A JAPANESE RESTAURANT CHAIN, WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER IN RUNNING YOUR RESTAURANT?
Dedicated staff who are able to carry on our brand name definitely matter. They should be able to follow the standard operating procedures in the restaurant, especially in maintaining standards and consistency. Technology similarly helps us with consistency. By using the right equipment, we are able to upkeep quality and freshness, and speed up the production time, which reduces manpower and affects the selling price.

We also take time to invest in our service quality. Both floor and kitchen staff have to go through rigorous training provided from the Japan headquarters and are constantly retrained to uphold quality service. IPPUDO customs are essentially - ramen must only be served fresh when guests are seated at the table, and communication is key to satisfactory dining experience.


WHAT IS ONE VALUABLE THING YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM THE F&B WORLD OF ASIA?
I have learned that the F&B world is ever-changing, like fashion. We need to constantly adapt to new ideas and trends in the market if we want to survive. At the same time, we need to bring a sensory experience to our customers. The music played in the restaurant, seats offered, lighting and decor, ingredients used for cooking, balance of texture and flavour, as well as presentation of the food - all of these need to come together to bring about the perfect harmony in a restaurant.

IPPUDO definitely deserves a lookout from the F&B world of Asia, and we are excited to see more of that in Malaysia itself. For more info on IPPUDO, you may contact:
IPPUDO MALAYSIA, IRR SDN BHD
Address : Menara Dion #15-02, 27 Jalan Sultan Ismail,
50250 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Contact : +6 017 6480815
Website : www.ippudo.com.my

Eileen ChanIPPUDO: transforming THE RAMEN BUSINESS