It may be 11 a.m. on a workday, but hundreds of people are waiting in line in Bushwick at Ichiran, the ramen chain from Japan specializing in tonkotsu broth that opens today. It’s the chain’s first location in New York and in the U.S., and while it may seem strange that they chose Bushwick, it was very much on purpose. It’s where they were able to find a big enough space to run a production facility, which is right next door to the restaurant at 374 Johnson Ave. When they eyed New York, they knew that Bushwick was just the beginning, says director of operations Hana Isoda. They plan to open at least an outpost in Manhattan using the production facility, hopefully before the L train shuts down in 2019. “We’re not sure yet [on how many locations], but our production kitchen can make up to 1,000 noodles per hour,” Isoda says. “And easily, within a day, we could make up to 8,000 bowls of ramen.”
Fans of Ichiran know it for founder Manabu Yoshitomi’s obsession for quality tonkotsu broth and freshly made noodles — a dedication that means diners are encouraged to eat in solo dining booths, where people can focus on the ramen without distractions. In the booths, diners write down their orders instead of speaking verbally, and when they’re ready to order, they press a button and pass the sheet instead of interacting with a server. While it’s possible to talk to other people in the booths, it’s discouraged. “There are so many distractions,” Isoda says, noting everything from music to the employees in restaurants. “When have we ever been face to face with the food in front of you and understand the flavor of the food that’s in front of you?”
By 10:45, a line of about 200 people had already formed outside the restaurant, including people who had driven down from upstate New York and people who had skipped work to get in line. Employees in red aprons walked along the line, passing out the spec sheets where diners denote what kind of ramen they want.
Ichiran has more than 60 locations, most of them in Japan. None of them are franchise locations, and the company brought in employees from Japan to run the Bushwick operation. Part of their philosophy is to make things as quickly and freshly as possible, making it impossible to import from Japan. They produce all the noodles, which are thin and non-curly, in the kitchen next door. They have a “15 second standard” — a goal to serve each bowl of ramen within 15 seconds of ordering. So although the line is hundreds long, it’s possible that it will move relatively quickly.
For people who don’t want to experience Ichiran as a solo diner, the Bushwick restaurant also has a separate area for a more traditional dining experience with servers and tables. The area also has a longer list of drinks, including sake and shochu-based drinks. Ichiran ramen is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily and does not take reservations. Stay tuned for photos and more information on the restaurant, and if you stop by, let us know if it’s worth the wait.
Watch: Where Ramen Noodles Come From