IDAHO FALLS – As Kevin Huff recalls the first year of operation for Hokkaido Ramen House in Idaho Falls, he describes the community reception as “overwhelmingly positive.”
The Japanese restaurant at 901 Pier View Drive opened last July in Snake River Landing and Huff tells EastIdahoNews.com the line on opening day “wrapped all the way around the block.”
“I just kept cooking … all day long and by the end of it, I was almost in tears. I was like, ‘Are they ever going to stop coming?’” Huff says.
Though the line has dwindled over the last year, the business’s popularity hasn’t. Prior to the opening of the Idaho Falls location, there was a store in Pocatello and Helena, Montana. There are now 17 locations in the works throughout the U.S. with three slated to open in Texas in the near future, according to Huff.
The menu includes 10 authentic Ramen dishes and seven appetizers, such as crab rangoons and shrimp. It also offers marble sodas, a Japanese fixture that comes with a marble held in place at the lip of the bottle until it’s opened. The restaurant also serves boba tea, a cold beverage that has a tea base, a milk or fruit flavor and edible tapioca pearls. EastIdahoNews.com sampled some of the menu, which you can watch in the video player above.
The restaurant’s owners, Hao Wang and Ling Ling Zhu, are originally from China and emigrated to the U.S. several years ago. The couple isn’t fluent in English so Huff manages the restaurant for them and speaks on their behalf.
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When the restaurant opened, Huff hadn’t even applied to work there. He walked in and asked for an application. He hadn’t put more than two letters of his name on paper before he was hired.
“She said, ‘Do you have non-slip shoes?’ I said ‘Yeah.’ She told me to go home and change my shoes and come back. I worked 11 hours that day. It was kind of like a working audition,” Huff recalls.
It’s been a joyful grind ever since, but Huff wouldn’t have it any other way.
Prior to managing Hokkaido, Huff spent five years working in the construction industry. He grew up in Idaho Falls, but worked in Las Vegas as a blackjack dealer and security guard for several years before moving back.
A year ago, Huff was fed up working outside in the cold as a construction worker and decided to try his hand as a restaurateur.
“I found out I could come here and, with the economy changing, I could make just as much in this kitchen as I could doing construction. It’s warm and I get to eat,” he says.
Huff has sampled the menu at many Ramen houses over the years and he’s become a self-proclaimed “ramen nut.” Hokkaido is better than any other place he’s tried.
Despite working numerous jobs over the years, he’s had a lifelong ambition to one day open his own Ramen shop and working at Hokkaido is bringing him one step closer to his dream.
“I’ve said for years that me and my sons are going to have our own Ramen house and these guys have pretty much given me that opportunity,” he says. “If they’re going to open more, I’ll take one and run it — hopefully somewhere warm. I’m trying to convince them to go to Arizona, so we’ll see.”
Huff says few people realize how popular Ramen is. At last count, Huff says there were 35 Ramen places in Vegas, and Idaho has needed one for years. The fact that it’s taken off in Idaho Falls isn’t surprising to him and he’s looking forward to watching it become more of a trend in other states as the business continues to grow.
“It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s good,” Huff says. “Every college student, every video-game-playing kid’s dream (food) is Ramen.”
Hokkaido Ramen House is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It shuts down for two hours and reopens from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It’s also open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.