Last week marked the final of four appearances for pop-up ramen restaurant Supu Sugoi. As with the previous two ticketed events — at Golden Harvest in November and Midtown Brewing Co. in December — last week’s dinner at Hannah’s Koney Island was sold out within 60 seconds. The one non-ticketed dinner at Avenue Café in January drew more than 300 customers.
“The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. We are strongly considering several offers of space to open a brick-and-mortar location,” said Dominic Cochran, who co-founded Supu Sugoi with Mai Sasaki-Cochran and Steve Swart. “But we are only interested in moving forward if we can continue to operate at the high level of craft we established with these pop-ups. This project very quickly morphed into something much larger in both scope and ambition than was originally planned.”
That successful experiment bodes well for Sapporo Ramen & Noodle Bar, which opened two weeks ago in East Lansing. It has nothing to do with Supu Sugoi — it was dreamed up by a completely different team of restaurateurs — but the main idea remains the same: It’s time for Metro Lansing to get acquainted with authentic Japanese ramen.
“In culinary school, I cooked a lot of Asian food, which is where I first experienced (ramen),” said Patrick Rubley, who runs Sapporo with Charlie Hoang. Kevin Choi, owner of Bulgogi, is also a partner in the business.
“We’ve been talking about opening a restaurant for five years,” Rubley said. “This ramen concept is something we felt East Lansing badly needed.”
In America, ramen has a reputation as “dorm room food”— cheap, fast and easy to cook. This is due to its introduction to the West in the form of Maruchan brand instant ramen, which was created by a Japanese business man after WWII trying to find a solution to world hunger.
The ramen concept is straightforward but highly changeable: one of several types of broth (such as mushroom, pork or chicken) is combined with thin, hand-crafted noodles and any of a variety of ingredients, including egg, mushrooms, scallions, bamboo shoots and pork belly. In Japan, ramen is a staple food item, with ramen shops being as common as, say, sandwich shops in downtown Lansing. Rubley won’t dish on specifics about how the broth is made or how the ingredients are assembled, but he said his brother, an English teacher in Osaka, Japan, is in regular contact and gives him tips straight from the home front.
“Ramen has been a significant thing in Asia and on the east and west coasts, but it hasn’t made it into the Midwest as much,” Rubley says. “With 10 percent of MSU being Chinese international students, we wanted to do something to reach out to them. But we wanted to do something different, and ramen fit perfectly.”
The basis for all ramen is the noodle, and all of Sapporo’s are handmade and shipped fresh to the store. The appetizer menu has been getting a good workout, with most tables ordering two or three to go with their ramen bowls. Early standouts include the Tako Yaki (fried octopus fritters) and Chashu Nicuman (braised pork belly served on a steamed bun). As for the main course, he said the Hakata Modern (a pork broth ramen served with aromatic black garlic oil) has been a popular — albeit time-consuming — request.
“It takes 45 minutes and is very laborious to make,” Rubley says. “But we’ve heard nothing but great things about it.”
Rubley was previously a chef de cuisine at Soup Spoon Café in downtown Lansing. Hoang has served as a consultant for a number of upstart restaurants, including the short-lived Kasutamu sushi restaurant around the corner. Sapporo takes its name from a region in Japan, which is also the name of a well known beer imported to the U.S. Rubley said the name reflects their desire to be authentic but still has some name brand recognition. It’s also an (unintentional?) ode to its own future — to put the “bar” in “noodle bar.”
“We hope to have beer and wine soon,” Rubley says. “We have lots of plans for how we can grow this. This is just the beginning. Part one for sure.”
New in Old Town
After more than a month of renovation work, Retail Therapy moved into its new home in Old Town Monday. It joins Grace Boutique, Curvaceous Lingerie and October Moon to create a cluster of women’s clothiers in the funky north Lansing boutique district. Owner/operator Celeste Saltzman opened Retail Therapy’s original location in a strip mall across from Meridian Mall in 2012.
“I was looking for a place more urban, more what I’m used to,” Saltzman says. “I grew up in Chicago, and Old Town reminded me of that.”
Saltzman handpicks almost every item in the store from fashion shows she attends in Chicago and New York. The move allowed her to expand the size of her store, which will, in turn, allow her to increase her selection.
“Most merchandise that I carried in Okemos was geared toward mature women,” Saltzman says. “Down here, we have LCC and young working women, so I’m going to be adding younger styles at a better price point. I hope to hit a wider range of women.”
Retail Therapy features many American-made lines, including labels from Brooklyn and St. Louis, as well as items from Trybe, located right here in Lansing, “Some (of these manufacturers) are small enough to be considered cottage industries,” Saltzman said. “You won’t find anything like this in department stores.”
Saltzman is working with local fashion blogger Andrea Kerbuski, the mind behind Blonde Bedhead (blondebedhead.com), to increase her social media presence. She’s also adding a customer rewards program as a way to thank longtime customers.
“I wanted to be in a place with a sense of community, and Old Town definitely has that,” Saltzman said. “I can’t believe how much support I’ve gotten already. It’s fabulous. It finally feels like home here.”
Sapporo Ramen & Noodle Bar 317 M.A.C. Ave., East Lansing 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday (517) 580-4251, facebook.com/sappororamenbar
Retail Therapy 1209 Turner St., Lansing 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday (517) 574-4427, iloveretailtherapy.com