The runaway success of noodle spot Shoryuken Ramen didn’t prepare Richmonders for the announcement of its closure in May. The restaurant’s smothered tots and tonkotsu ramen seemed to be selling as briskly as ever.
But owner Will Richardson says the clock was always ticking. “We knew the lease was going to run out,” he says. “That was sort of a given.”
After a long series of weekly pop-ups at Lunch, Richardson took over the former Dash Kitchen & Carry space on West Franklin Street last spring. He was confident he could find a new home for Shoryuken before the lease ran out. He’s come close, but struck no deals. And while there was interest from out of town, he doesn’t want to leave Richmond.
Instead, there’s a new project on the horizon.
Last year, Richardson joined the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit organization that documents and explores the food culture of the South, with headquarters at the University of Mississippi. The alliance held its first summer symposium in Richmond in 2013.
“I really wanted to do something other than just being a dues-paying member,” Richardson says.
So while he continues to actively seek partners and a location for the ramen shop, he’s planning a series of Monday night pop-ups called Shoryuken Naam — naam means south or southern in Cantonese. Part of the proceeds will go to the SFA.
In the early days, Lunch — because of the generosity of owners Rick Lyons, and Herb and Beverly Rueger — was the jumping-off point for his future ramen restaurant. And again, Lunch will open its doors to Richardson starting Monday, June 6.
“[Shoryuken Naam] is an expression of my experience growing up in an Asian family in the South,” he says. His grandparents, who immigrated from China in 1969, owned Moon Gate Restaurant on the South Side, and it wasn’t until he was older that he realized they made local substitutions for Chinese ingredients at home and in the restaurant — ingredients such as country ham, boiled peanuts or local collards for mustard greens.
“It wasn’t fusion for us,” he says. “It was just food. I didn’t realize how inherently Southern my grandma’s food was for a long time.”
Richardson wants to bring those ingredients to his new project. He plans a country ham banh mi and lots of stir-fried collards with Chinese sausage and soy sauce aged in bourbon barrels from Reservoir Distillery. He’ll put Japanese fried chicken atop waffles scented with Chinese five-spice powder and drizzle them with spicy honey. There will be ramen, too, he emphasizes, and those smothered tots, but he’s looking forward to finding even more parallel ingredients to experiment with.
But don’t call it fusion. “If there’s anything that Southern Foodways Alliance has taught me,” he says, “it’s that if you’re in the South and it’s your culture — whatever that culture might be that you come from — it’s all Southern American food.”