BURLINGTON – Gaku Ramen brings a traditional Japanese ramen shop to Church Street in downtown Burlington this month, with an emphasis on authentic cuisine, affordable pricing and strong customer service.
“Japanese ramen is the ultimate comfort food, and it’s also an increasingly popular ethnic cuisine throughout the United States,” said Kelley Jones, managing partner of Trust3 Hospitality, which operates the restaurant on behalf of owners Ryan Goldstein, David Stone and Michael March. “And Gaku Ramen is an authentic Japanese ramen shop.”
The restaurant’s all-day menu offers tonkotsu, shoyu, miso and vegetarian ramen soup bowls, plus a variety of starters including edamame, gyoza, pork buns, shishito peppers and several salads.
“What’s important to us is the authenticity of what is in the bowl and on the plate,” Jones said. To back that up, in mid-May the company brought in two chefs who operate ramen shops in Tokyo to work with Executive Chef Chad Hanley. One of those, consulting chef Kabuki Nakazawa, collaborated on Gaku Ramen’s menu to help develop recipes that both honor and preserve the tradition of ramen.
“We’ve taken some whimsical liberties in other areas,” Jones said of some signature approaches to enhancing the dining experience. “We have a sake cart that we will wheel through the dining room to sell sake and wine, and our sake glass presentation will include a four-ounce glass in a sake box. We’ll pour the sake so that it overflows into the box to create a fun moment.”
The beverage menu features craft beers and a strong wine list, as well as sake, according to Jones.
“For beers, we focus on both craft Vermont and craft Japanese,” he said. Jones added that the number and variety of Japanese craft beers might surprise local beer fans. “Japanese craft brews tend to be more fruit-forward, compared to hop-forward Vermont brews. I think the two will complement each other nicely.”
The restaurant occupies more than 2,500 square feet and serves up to 62 inside, with patio seating for 42 outside. Steve Sorrell of Sorrell Construction in Underhill was the contractor for extensive work to the interior.
“The only thing we kept was the flooring,” said Jones.
He is pleased with several customer-friendly design elements, including a hosting area where the guests are greeted directly — rather than from behind a host stand — and a large walk-up area at the bar for guests waiting for tables.
Jones said Gaku Ramen translates roughly to “educated noodle,” and he thinks it’s a fit great for college towns. In Burlington, he thinks an affordable price point will draw local residents and visitors as well as students on a regular basis.
“We are really conscious of our check average,” Jones said. “We’re budgeting our check average to be about 12 to 13 dollars for lunch and 16 to 18 dollars for dinner, depending on what you drink. We don’t want to be the special-occasion restaurant you come to once a month. We want this to be a place where the local business people are here three or four days a week.”
Burlington is the first of what Jones hopes will be many Gaku Ramen shops throughout the northeast. The company is focused on college towns. “We are consciously looking at fun, smaller markets such as Burlington,” Jones said. “The three owners of this business went to college together and decided to open ramen shops in college towns throughout the northeast.”
The restaurant began staffing up with a job fair this month, followed by extensive training with a focus on customer service.
“I’ve been in the industry a long time, and hospitality by definition is warm, personal, engaged service — how we make you feel when you walk in,” Jones said. “We could have the most amazing food in the world, but if the service isn’t good, you’re not coming back.
Gaku Ramen is located at 144 Church Street in Burlington. The hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday; and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Thursday through Saturday. The phone number is 497-3050, and the website is www.gakuramen.com.