From the moment the Kinton Ramen team opened its first location in Toronto in 2012, it has been driven to create an experience that transports guests to the iconic and beloved ramen shops found all over Japan—from the careful selection of impeccable ingredients that go into each bowl of noodle soup, to the umami-rich bone broths made on a daily basis and the minimalist modern interior design reminiscent of homes in Kyoto. Seven years later, this meticulous attention to detail is still fundamental to the Canadian ramen powerhouse, which now boasts 32 locations across Canada, Korea, Japan and, starting this Saturday, May 18, the United States.
For its first U.S. location, Kinton Ramen chose Chicago’s Fulton Market District (163 N Sangamon St., 312.374.3942) with a Wicker Park location (1426 N. Milwaukee St.) slated to open this summer. From May 18th through 27th, the restaurant will serve dinner only, opening at 5 p.m. daily. Starting May 28th, Kinton Ramen will open at 11:30 a.m. serving lunch and dinner 7 days a week. May 28th also marks the restaurant’s grand opening celebration with the first 50 guests in line receiving a free bowl of ramen. Opening celebrations will continue after the doors open with ramen offered at 50 percent off all-day-long.
Bringing the Kinton Ramen concept to the United States has always been part of the company’s growth plan. “It’s been my childhood dream to come to the U.S.,” says founder and CEO James Hyunsoo Kim. Chicago specifically topped the Toronto-based company’s list of American cities due to its proximity to its headquarters and, more importantly, Chicagoans’ love of good food and community. “We can engage with an educated constituency, who already know and love good ramen,” says John Tirch, VP of Operations, USA. That plays into the company’s plans for expansion in the U.S., including three more locations in Chicago by the end of 2019 with the East Coast up next, and a philosophy of promoting from within. “We are planting the seed in the U.S. here in Chicago, hiring the front and back of house staff of today who will become our executives of tomorrow.”
Kinka Family (KKC), the parent company behind Kinton Ramen and brainchild of hospitality trailblazer James, also operates Kinka Izakaya, a series of Japanese pubs well known for their food and lively atmosphere; JaBistro, a sophisticated sushi and sashimi bistro; and affiliated Neo Coffee Bar, a coffee lounge offering specialty coffee drinks and Japanese baked goods.
From James’s extensive career in hospitality, to Kinton Ramen Executive Chef Aki Urata’s 20-plus years of experience in ramen, their passion to create the highest quality ramen experience begins with the foundation of every bowl of ramen, the broth, which is made from scratch daily at each Kinton Ramen location. Pork bones are cooked for at least 20 hours to create the rich, lip-smacking base for the four styles of pork broth: Original, Shoyu, Miso and Spicy Garlic. The accompanying slices of pork belly get a quick torching before serving for added caramelization and flavor. Chicken bones go through a similar time-consuming process to create the base for the Original, Shoyu, Miso and Spicy Jalapeno chicken ramens accompanied by juicy sous-vide chicken breast slices.
Eighteen ramen add-ons, including Swiss Cheese (it’s a thing in Japan, assures James), allow diners to customize their meal as does the option of thin or thick noodles (look for gluten-free ones in the near future). Non-meat eaters can opt for Vegetarian Ramen, which includes crispy tofu and a bounty of seasoned vegetables. U.S. diners will get an extra treat as the cult-favorite Karaage Ramen joins the menu full-time, a Monday-only offering in Toronto, featuring choice of Shoyu or Spicy broth, topped with the brand’s signature Fried Chicken Karaage and fresh scallions.
To start your meal, hot and cold shareable dishes follow a similar thoughtful approach, ranging from Age Corn (deep-fried buttered corn with sweet-soy sauce) and pork Age Gyoza to the hard-to-resist Karaage (fried chicken paired with garlic mayo), available in original or hot for those who want a hot chili kick. And warmer weather will mean the addition of Kinton’s variety of Cold Ramens as well as refreshing noodle salads.
To guarantee that the quality of its U.S. restaurants will meet the high standards already in place in Canada, Japan and Korea, the Kinton Ramen team conducted months of blind taste-testing to select the American purveyors who will be part of their growth. “We have established an extraordinarily selective and consistent supply chain so that our brand standards are completely exact wherever we go,” says James.
An equally inventive beverage program has been created to complement Kinton Ramen’s traditional and modern food offerings. There’s Sapporo on draft, Hitachino White Ale, hot and cold house sake, premium cold sake Soto, Japanese food-friendly wines, and an edited list of creative cocktails, including the Kinton Krush featuring Suntory Toki, green tea, lemon and pineapple. Popular Japanese soda Ramune can be had on its own or as part of a mojito-inspired cocktail (Ramunjito, anyone?). Kinton’s signature housemade Yuzu Lemonade will be available, too.
Inside the 2,300-square-foot, 58-seat space, guests can sit at cozy wood tables or at the counter, which offers a front-row seat to all the culinary action going on in the open kitchen. The 14-seat patio will open soon. The minimalist, modern design includes complementary textures of blond wood, powder-coated metal and stainless steel. A gold line hood mimics the color of the restaurant’s iconic gold pig logo. Each bowl of ramen will be accompanied by dark-wood oversized soup spoons.
But more than its signature look, Kinton Ramen is well known for its inviting atmosphere and warm service. “Our mission is serving people happiness,” says James. “If we are nice to each other, even in the smallest ways, the world will be a better place.”