On June 1, 2018, Ryan Cruz is opening his fourth ramen joint in BGC, and for the first time he claims he feels almost no apprehension.
When he opened Yushoken in Alabang five years ago, Cruz was not sure how southern suburbanites would receive their Japanese concept and the strict “no-takeout” rule. When they expanded to Cebu, there were warnings about a very conservative market that prefered to stick to what they knew.
With the introduction of Mendokoro Ramenba in Salcedo Village, Cruz again took a risk in introducing the ramen bar concept which challenged typical Filipino eating habits. While Pinoys enjoy long-drawn conversations over family-style meals, Mendokoro was built for quick, no-fuss dining that actually works best eating solo. Cruz was not sure then if it was asking too much.
But the long lines speak for themselves. There are some weekends when Yushoken Alabang is still abuzz until 3 a.m. because they feel bad about turning away customers who have been in line for hours. When the Japanese head chef did a surprise audit in Mendokoro one weekday afternoon, he was puzzled to see a line outside at 3:30pm. “Holiday ba? Bakit dami tao?” He asked Cruz in his broken Filipino. Cruz replied, “Kasi sarap ramen.” When the chef found out some people have been waiting for three hours, he himself replied “our ramen is not THAT good!”
With this kind of feverish excitement surrounding their product, Cruz can rightfully rest easy knowing that when they open Mendokoro BGC, people will come. They will line up for bites of the gyoza that are made fresh daily in their commissary and make the 2-hour trip to the stores without spending time in a freezer. It is the only rightful companion to the ramen that has now developed the reputation of being perfect every single time.
Prepping the Super Chasu
“Before, we would start inviting people to come in a month before opening to try the food, just to train the staff,” Cruz shares. “For this (BGC) branch, we’re just doing a week run.” The opening team definitely showed good form based on the high quality classics they churned out. The tangy/piquant karai tokusei tsukemen—cold, thicker ramen noodles dipped in a rich broth heavy with flavorful ground pork and chashu- is its usual bold self. The refreshing hiyashi chuka is the perfect alternative to the usual hot soup with its citrusy sesame dressing coating cold, taught noodles, shrimp, cucumber, and chicken. For those looking for provocative flavors, the shoyu maze soba is a dry ramen seasoned with soy and raw garlic, the pungent aromatic tempered by cool raw beansprouts and shredded cabbage.
Karai Tokusei Tsukemen
What makes Mendokoro such a resounding success? The owners believe it’s their unyielding attention to detail, the dedication to serve the perfect bowl from the time they open at 11 a.m. until closing time, which recently is in the wee hours. Co-owner Mario Rossi admits, “we take all criticisms seriously. We see something negative on social media, we address it immediately.” The belief in their product is such that they have not changed their menu from the time they opened. Sometimes, their Japanese chef yields to the demands of their fans and include off-the-menu items such as the Super Chashu or 150 grams of tender rolled pork belly over their shoyu ramen, with fresh red chilis to compliment the indulgent meat. “Just to prove that we can if we really wanted to,” Cruz cheekily shares. “But, as much as possible, we like to stick to the original recipes of our Japanese chef.”
But with the opening of Mendokoro BGC, which is double the size of the Makati branch, what people are really hoping for is that it will eliminate the hours-long wait. Or, at least, make the wait shorter. “I think that should fix the problem (of long lines),” Cruz reassures. Rossi is more tentative with his pronouncement. “I think Makati people will stay in Makati,” he professes. “This BGC branch will probably cater to Forbes and Dasma, maybe Valle Verde also via C5.” However, he admits, “You never really know until you actually open.” Line or no line, one thing we can be sure of is that come opening day, no seat will be empty.
Mendokoro Ramenba’s second location opens on June 1, 2018 at G/F The Icon Plaza, 26th Street corner Federacion Drive, BGC, Taguig.