Joyce Luo is a self-proclaimed foodie. She’s lived all over the world and is always watching for new trends in dining. Now that she's landed in Cleveland, her radar is on the 216.
“I’m really picky for food,” she says. “I’ve lived in Hong Kong and California, so I’m really picky on food. And I love to eat.”
That particularity is what prompted Luo, her son Jacky Ho and business partner Janet Yee to open Otani Noodle
, 11472 Euclid Ave. in University Circle Uptown last June.
“We could foresee that ramen is a trend. It’s so popular in the big cities like New York, Chicago and Toronto,” says Yee. “We travel a lot and been to those ramen places.”
The trio was correct in predicting the trend would take off in Cleveland—especially in a neighborhood nestled amid academic and cultural institutions and two major hospitals. Otani Noodle's popularity has taken off, especially with the lunch time crowds, says Luo.
“Lunch is really busy,” says Luo. “When you have [just] an hour, you don’t have to wait too long.”
Customers line up in the 750-square-foot restaurant for the traditional Japanese ramen: pork- or miso-based broth with noodles and then topped with pork, chicken or seafood. The dish is nothing like the grocery store ramen noodles that's a life-sustaining staple for so many college students, notes Luo, laughing.
“We’re doing well,” says Yee. “American people like noodles.” Luo adds, “Young people love this because it’s new.”
An open kitchen offers a direct view of the food prep while customers walk up to the counter and place their orders. The dining room has more than two dozen high-top tables. Take-out and some third-party delivery round out the options.
“It’s colorful,” says Luo of the striking red and black interior. “It’s a traditional Japanese theme.”
The menu offers 10 options, one of which is vegetarian. The most popular, both Yee and Luo say, is the pork belly with tonkotsu soup (broth made from pork bones) and noodles, topped with scallions, kikurage mushroom, seaweed and seasoned boiled egg. Prices range from $7.95 to $11.95.
In the scant seven months since opening, Otani's success has prompted the owners to start a search for a second location downtown. They've also added four donburi rice bowls to the menu just this week, because “I think it’s a good thing to add,” says Luo.
The partners are no strangers to operating restaurants and sensing food trends. Yee's family opened the Otani Japanese Restaurant
in Mayfield Heights in 1978 and offered up sushi to the established meat-and-potato Cleveland crowd. But it caught on, as did the hibachi style entrees and noodle dishes. “We’ve served ramen for as long as we’ve been here,” Yee says of the Mayfield location. “But we never tried to boast about it. Our customers say we have the best sushi around.”
Luo also has a long food history She owned an American deli in Euclid before joining the Otani Mayfield team.
Yee says they had planned on offering sushi at the Uptown noodle shop, but ultimately decided against it because next door, Zack Bruell’s Dynomite Burgers
, already had it on the menu.
The Otani team opted to be a good neighbor instead of a competitor.