There are two Asian restaurants opening in ghost kitchen hub Kitchen United Mix: Japanese noodle soup pop-up Ramen 512 with its first permanent location, and a second location of Korean restaurant Seoulju. Both focus on just takeout and delivery orders, since Kitchen United doesn’t feature any dine-in space. Ramen 512 is now open as of Sunday, July 12, with Seoulju opening today, Monday, July 13, both found at 8023 Burnet Road in Wooten.
Initially, Ramen 512 offers three types of tonkatsu (pork broth-based) ramens: hakata classic, black garlic oil, and sunset red (which is spicy). Eventually, it’ll expand with other types of ramen, as seen through previous pop-up dinners, including shoyu (soy sauce-based broth), tantanmen (spicy ramen noodle soup), and a vegan one.
There are two available format options too, one cooked and the other uncooked. For the first, ingredients (noodles, toppings, broth) will be packaged separately with reheating instructions. Those who want to try their hand at cooking ramen themselves can opt for the at-home ramen kit with instructions.
Ramen 512 chef Vinh Thai, who studied under ramen expert Keizo Shimamoto, has been operating the noodle soup pop-up since May 2019. He always planned on opening a permanent restaurant, but because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, he decided to pivot into takeout ramen instead. “I am uncertain of when our lives will go back to normal,” he explained to Eater. He still plans on opening a physical restaurant with dine-in space at some point in the future.
Thai was connected to Kitchen United through Seoulju general manager Tram Lee. The North Lamar Korean restaurant had hosted the ramen pop-up often.
The second Seoulju will function as an express restaurant, according to owner John Lee, with a limited menu and smaller-portioned dishes. This means rice plates and Korean fried chicken, but no hot pots or soups. “We want to focus on fast-casual meals,” he explained, “and not the heavy-drinking food that’s usually accompanied with soju.”
Lee was interested in the idea of expanding with a ghost kitchen (a restaurant that operates only with takeout and delivery services and doesn’t include any dine-in services), since he wanted to expand Seoulju’s offerings in a safe way in order to increase profits. “We lost a majority of our sales,” he told Eater, when the restaurant had to close its dining room in March. The restaurant stuck to takeout service, despite customers’ requests to reopen its dining room, because “we feel we need to do our part to keep everyone safe,” he explained.
In March, Lee asked the restaurant’s property manager for rent relief in April. That resulted in the ability to pay half of the restaurant’s rent through June, along with full triple-net (real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance fees).
However, the July rent bill included the unpaid portions from April through June — “We got a bill 2.5 times the amount of rent all to be paid on July 1st,” Lee said. Through a call for more food and gift card orders, as well as the help of a last-minute Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, the restaurant was able to pay the rent bill.
Of the several inquiries he sent off, Kitchen United, the California-based company which opened its first Austin location this year, was the only one to respond. With the addition of this takeout/delivery-only offshoot, the original Seoulju restaurant will be able to expand its to-go program with the help of third-party delivery service startup Spirit Tree.
Ramen 512 and Seoulju’s express menus are available for pickup and delivery. Orders can be placed through each restaurant’s respective website as well as through Kitchen United’s online ordering platform. The two restaurants will offer a special combination meal of ramen and chicken nuggets for its grand opening on Wednesday, July 15.
The two restaurants’s Kitchen United neighbors include California hot dog chain Dog Haus, Teji’s Indian Restaurant, Bao’d Up, Nashville-style fried chicken spot Hawt Chicken, Bombay Walla, and Missouri-based mini-chain Hawaiian Bros.