BOOM: Ramen Graduates From Dorm Room to MULO Brand
Many of us know ramen as the instant noodles that served as an inexpensive and fast meal when we were students or recently-graduated professionals, with limited budget for restaurants and limited home cooking skills and equipment.
Elevated ramen was introduced to the U.S. in 2004 with the opening of the Momofuku Noodle Bar. The brand is still alive, but its founder David Chang has gone on to build a diverse culinary empire.
But ramen and other types of noodles live on and, in fact, are being served up by a fast-scaling multi-location (MULO) brand called JINYA.
Recently featured in FSR Magazine as the “Breakout Brand of the Year 2023,” JINYA now has 60 locations, with 24 more slated for 2024.
Unlike its dorm room equivalent, the homemade noodles at JINYA are prepared with FIJI water (ensuring they are free from impurities). The company is growing rapidly. The first U.S. store was in Hollywood, California and the brand now spans the entire U.S.
Its parent, JINYA Holdings, has introduced several other brands based on Japanese cuisine, including some elevated concepts with upscale ambiance and cocktail service.
But ramen isn’t the only noodle having a moment.
- Noodles & Company has close to 500 locations nationally. They offer a wide range of noodle types from various cuisines and feature a rewards program.
- I Heart Mac and Cheese is growing rapidly. They currently have more than 35 locations and recently added flatbreads to their menu.
- Nothing But Noodles is a smaller player in the noodle space, with five locations in two states (Alabama and North Carolina).
In addition to these brands, most fast-casual Asian restaurant brands offer some type of noodle on their menus and often allow consumers to customize their selections.
Gluten-free noodles are also appealing to those people who have celiac disease or are following a special diet and many of the MULO brands are accommodating this need. The trend toward healthy eating is here to stay and, although ramen is not gluten-free, we predict that more restaurants will offer a wide range of options in the future.
One of the biggest challenges for ramen brands in the U.S. has been changing the image of the food as being a fast, inexpensive, and filling way to feed your student self to a customizable fast-casual option.
Whether consumers like their pasta Asian style, or with a nostalgic all-American flavor, you can be sure that noodles will remain a popular part of the MULO food landscape — long after diners move out of their dorms.