The original New York City outpost of Ivan Ramen will not be reopening after the coronavirus pandemic. Owner Ivan Orkin confirmed to Eater that his acclaimed Hell’s Kitchen Slurp Shop, which has long served as the anchor of the Gotham West Market food hall in Hell’s Kitchen since 2013, permanently closed on November 1, 2020.
Despite the ramen shop’s devoted following and many accolades over the last decade, Orkin says the Hell’s Kitchen location had been “struggling” to stay afloat during the pandemic. Almost exactly seven years after opening Slurp Shop, he decided to shutter the restaurant last November and focus instead on an opportunity to expand into the emerging ghost kitchen market through a partnership with the Flagship Restaurant Group, an Omaha, Nebraska-based company that operates a chain of sushi concepts called Blue Sushi Sake Grill.
As part of the partnership, Orkin has already opened four takeout- and delivery-focused Ivan Ramen locations in Nebraska, with another two outposts in Texas planned for later this year. “We had a fantastic run at Gotham and were deeply disappointed to leave our friends and neighbors but surviving this pandemic has been all about pivoting and we are survivors,” Orkin says.
The Clinton Street location of Ivan Ramen on the Lower East Side, which the New York Times awarded two stars in an August 2014 review, is reportedly still “going strong,” according to Orkin. “We hope to be open for years to come.”
Orkin, a self-described “Jewish kid from Long Island,” is not Japanese. (He’s a “Japonophile,” as he put it in an interview with Bon Appétit from 2015, who moved to Japan after graduating from college in 1985 and then again to Tokyo in 2003.) Shortly after that second move, Orkin opened the first location of Ivan Ramen in Tokyo, an intimate, 10-seat noodle shop in 2007 that “proved an immediate hit.” He followed up with a second location in Tokyo in 2010.
By the time Orkin opened Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in New York City in November 2013, his reputation had long made its way to the United States. Gotham West Market approached the chef to see if he would open his first international noodle shop in the yet-to-be-opened food hall and he obliged. Slurp Shop was never a replica of Orkin’s work in Tokyo: He did not make his own noodles at the new restaurant, sourcing them instead from Sun Noodle in New Jersey, and toned down the heat of his spicy red chile ramen for his American clientele — but if New Yorkers noticed the changes, they didn’t seem to mind.
The Hell’s Kitchen ramen counter couldn’t keep pace with the city’s growing interest in Japanese noodles at that time, and the following spring he opened a sprawling, 50-seat flagship restaurant on the Lower East Side. Seated throughout that dining room, food critics debated whether the restaurant’s bowls of mazemen ramen or its non-noodle dishes were the main attraction, but they agreed that an undeniable hit had been born. “So good it will make your eyes explode,” in the words of Eater critic Ryan Sutton.