A restaurant owner believed in the adventurous eating habits of the Palouse enough that he decided to open a Japanese ramen shop in the middle of downtown Pullman.
“I think the area, from what I’ve seen, is very receptive to new food ventures,” said Orin Ford, owner of O-Ramen.
Early signs indicate he was right. When the restaurant, located at 131 N. Grand Ave., opened at the end of March, O-Ramen was so busy it ran out of food and was forced to close. Ford said they were not yet prepared for that big of a lunch and dinner crowd.
Now, O-Ramen is operating at regular hours for lunch and dinner seven days a week and serves several Japanese ramen dishes such as shio, miso and vegan ramen — dishes that incorporate ingredients like bamboo shoots and pork chashu, seasoned egg and garbanzo beans.
Inside the restaurant, bottles of sake, plum wine, beers and cider line the shelves at the bar. Next to them are stacked books with titles like “Preserving the Japanese Way,” “The Sake Handbook” and “Japanese Cooking.”
Before Ford brought everything he learned about Japanese cooking to Pullman, the southeastern Idaho native was a biology major at the University of Idaho. Ford moved to Moscow in 2003 to attend UI and spent the following years cutting his teeth at Moscow restaurants Sangria and Maialina. He was hired at Sangria as a dishwasher and then worked his way up the ranks until he was managing Maialina.
Unsure whether he wanted to stay on the Palouse for the long term, Ford decided to travel to Asia for six months to see more of the world. While visiting Japan, he participated in an intensive all-day ramen course where he learned how to make noodles with an old noodle making machine. That experience gave him further appreciation for the dish.
“I really understood what ramen was,” he said.
Since then, he has participated in other ramen classes and workshops from California to Singapore. After returning to the Palouse, he kept his dream of opening a ramen shop. When the downtown Pullman space became available, he decided to make it a reality.
Ford said customers who visit O-Ramen have at least some idea of what they are getting into. They know the dishes they order are more complex than the cheap packaged noodles people find at the store — and he believes they appreciate why they are paying more for their dish.
“I think it’s pretty apparent in the food,” he said.
After surviving the restaurant’s early struggles, Ford hopes O-Ramen can continue to grow. His goal is to continue getting better at making noodles himself, and he hopes to work with local farmers to incorporate their ingredients in the menu.
Mostly, Ford and his staff just want to keep honing their craft.
“We’re just trying to get better at what we’re doing,” he said.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to email@example.com.