Why The World’s Only Michelin-Starred Ramen Shop Chose to Open Its First Overseas Branch in Singapore
As the chef-owner of Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta, the world’s only Michelin-starred ramen shop, Yuki Onishi isn’t new to business proposals.
But the one that prompted the 37-year-old Tokyo native to embark on his most ambitious business expansion yet—his first overseas shop, 5,000 kilometers from home—came through an unexpectedly millennial channel: Facebook.
One day after the awards ceremony for the 2016 Michelin Guide Tokyo in December last year, Onishi logged into his social media account and a message from an unfamiliar name popped up.
It read: “We would love to tell the world about your ramen. Have you ever thought about opening a restaurant outside of Japan...in Singapore?”
“I had never particularly thought of expanding abroad, but what distinguished the Singapore partner was simply the fact that he came, got in line, and actually ate my food. The other people who said they were interested in Tsuta didn’t do that,” recalls Onishi, whose little nine-seater eatery in Sugamo, a sleepy northern Tokyo suburb, draws herds of foodies from around the world.
Queues form as early as 6am every morning, even though the shop only opens at 11am. Even then, not everyone gets a taste of his coveted ramen. Tickets for the day’s seatings are usually handed out by 8am, as Onishi only serves about 150 bowls of ramen daily—each one priced at an affordable ¥1,000 to ¥1,500 (S $13 to S$20) a bowl.
Onishi adds, “Business is all about human relationships. For me, it’s all about what kind of person the partner is."
And he couldn’t be in better hands for his maiden overseas foray. As it turned out, his Singapore counterparts are from the same company that partnered with one-Michelin-starred Hong Kong dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan for the latter's rapid global expansion. They will also be importing Kam’s Roast Goose, which has one Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau, to Singapore next month.
Tsuta’s Singapore outpost will open in Pacific Plaza, a mall along the city’s Orchard Road shopping belt, in October—adjacent to the upcoming Kam's Roast Goose outlet.
The intimate 18-seater will offer ramen in three soup bases: a Miso Soba; a Shio Soba made with an enticing chicken-seafood broth, rock salt, red wine and rosemary; and Tsuta’s signature Shoyu Soba, made with dashi brewed from a combination of beef, chicken, clams and three types of soy sauces, including one specially brewed by an artisanal soy sauce producer in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture.
“There are plenty of of tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen shops in Asia, but in Tokyo and the Kanto region, shoyu ramen is the most common style of ramen—by a long way,” he tells the Michelin Guide Singapore's digital team on our recent visit to Tokyo. “My aim is to create a ramen shop that can leave an impact with its unique dashi and umami flavors, and that can become as popular as the tonkotsu style of ramen.”
“I hope to provide customers in Singapore with a taste that only I, and Tsuta, can create,” he adds.
Watch the video below for more information to find out more about Yuki Onishi, and the art —and food science—that goes into every bowl of Tsuta's ramen.