Have you heard of the ramen restaurant, "Ichiran"?
It is a world-renowned tonkotsu-exclusive ramen restaurant with an international fan-base.
Some restaurants say they are exclusive of a certain type of ramen, but to build a larger menu repertoire, they serve different kinds of ramen and side items like gyoza or fried rice.
Ichiran is not the one of them.
Ichiran builds its focus on the taste of their tonkotsu ramen. In order for customer to fully experience the taste of their ramen, the store consists of booth-like partitions which separates you from other customers (even your friends and family, if you came with company).
They want customers to focus on the dining experience, their ramen and the story behind it. Each booth has informative posters that tell of the brand and what their ramen is about.
Last time I visited Ichiran, I learned some interesting tidbits about this ramen giant on their informative posters like, "Ichiran originated in Fukuoka and it was a members-only restaurant. The owner of this restaurant has never learned about how to make ramen, but he studied about Japanese food while he traveled around the country" and “the booth system and red spicy sauce are Ichiran originals”.
This restaurant is a very successful ramen franchise with over 100 million US dollars in ramen sales per year!
Let’s take a look at the reasons why Ichiran is doing so well...
(1) Once the customer is seated in their booth, they are greeted by posters of informative Ichiran ramen stories. The restaurant employs this method to build a connection with the customer.
Once they get to know Ichiran’s story, the ramen tastes twice as good because you are not only consuming ramen but also the information.
(2) The booth-seating style increases seat turnover as customers are encouraged not to chat in the restaurant.
(3) The booth and posters hide the chefs, staff and kitchen area. This means customers cannot see any additional information relating to how their ramen is made. The reason for this is because the restaurant is afraid knowing who makes your ramen will create a bias.
Picture this: Every time you go into your favourite restaurant, you see the same chef preparing your meal. One day, you see a different chef preparing your meal. This may cause some kind of bias (intentionally or unintentionally) which may affect the diner's perception of the meal.
(4) Sometimes, chefs and staff are too busy and may forget to say “Irasshaimase" (welcome) to a customer.
This may sound like a trivial oversight but on Japanese restaurant review sites like Taberogu, a common complaint is that ramen restaurant owners are rude since they don’t properly welcome their customers. In order to avoid being rude, an automatic "irasshaimase" sounds whenever a customer enters.
(5) Ichiran tries to minimize potential human errors and complaints from their customers. A common complaint in a busy ramen restaurant is for a server or chef to mishear the order.
Ichiran uses a writing order system where customers write down the softness of noodles, amount of garlic, thickness of taste, etc.., which makes it impossible for the customer to say the staff misheard their order.
(6) Ichiran runs a centralized kitchen. This means that they don't make their broth on site in their restaurant. The broth is made in a centralized location and transported to the different franchises.
Doesn't sound as yummy as watching the chef creating the dish, right?
This is another reason why posters and booths are utilized, so they can hide this trade secret from their customers.
Why doesn’t Ichiran just make the broth in their kitchens on site?
This is because using a centralized location creates a standard and uniform broth.
Even if the same recipe is used in each franchise, there is a possibility that tastes vary from restaurant to restaurant.
Let's take a look at the sites where the Ichiran "magic" occurs.
Ichiran's factory is located in West Fukuoka and is called "Ichiran no Mori" (literally meaning, Ichiran's Forest).
The size of this factory is 22.9 acres which makes it even larger than the Yankee Stadium.
It is a ramen theme park (the "Disneyland" of ramen restaurants) because not only is there a factory, there are also restaurants, stores, and even a tonkotsu ramen museum.
Ichiran has 2 factories in Japan. One is located in Fukuoka and the other is in Yokohama. Here, they make noodles, soup, and chashu.
In the factory, then can make up to 90,000 bowls of noodles per day!
That's a lot of ramen!
The recipe is top secret. The only person who knows the entire recipe is the owner of Ichiran.
Some factory workers know how to make the noodles, but they have no idea how to make the broth.
While other factory workers know how to make chashu, but not the other parts of the ramen's production.
There are only 4 people in the world (including the owner) who knows how to make Ichiran's special tare (sauce) and soup.
When traveling on business trips, these four individuals take four different airplanes because if an aviation accident were to occur, Ichiran's secret recipe would be lost forever.
At Ichiran no Mori, you can learn the history of tonkotsu ramen at their interactive museum.
You can see and touch ramen tools that are currently and historically used in their chains.
In addition, you can even see autographs and favorite toppings of celebrities who have been to Ichiran no Mori.
Ramen fan coming to Japan?
This place should definitely make it on your must-see list!
Ichiran no Mori
Address: 256-10 Shima Shoto, Itoshima City, Fukuoka Prefecture
Hours: 10: 00-21: 00
A key takeaway from this brief case study on ramen giant "Ichiran" is the importance of enjoying a meal with your whole body including mind and soul.
Not only is the food itself important, but the mindset, mentality and atmosphere plays a large role during the dining experience.
Why not take a set of our lovely Japanese-style bowl sets home to spice up your meal-time and enhance the overall perception of the food as well as dining atmosphere?