Not long after the very first customers were seated at his new ramen restaurant, Kaito Kaneyoshi arrived, baseball cap on backwards; if there were any nerves about the opening, it didn’t show. After all, this was his third restaurant launch.
Four years ago, Kaneyoshi entered Vancouver’s ramen game with Ramen Butcher — now, a staple in Vancouver’s Chinatown amidst a plethora of budding food establishments. One year later, Ramen Gojiro and it’s popular bakamori with karaage hit the downtown food scene, and is still drawing lineups outside its Financial District location.
Now, he’s opened Ramen Gaoh — his third ramen shop, and the first in his backyard of Burnaby, British Columbia.
Having grown up only 10 minutes away from the restaurant’s location at the corner of East Hastings and Willingdon, the 34-year-old owner remembers grabbing pizza with friends right where Ramen Gaoh now stands. Papa John’s, he recalls, with a smile.
Slices of cheese and pepperoni on fried dough have since been replaced with slices of cha siu atop steaming broth and noodles — the culmination of a project that’s been more than a year in the making and the result of an increasingly changing demographic.
“I thought it was time, especially when we came across this great opportunity and location,” he said. “It’s come all the way around.”
With a mix of nostalgia, industry familiarity, and an inspiration to continue providing the community with diverse culinary options, Kaneyoshi has a point: it is time — to again expand on what he’s done well and to bring it to his former neighbourhood.
The inaugural day buzz spoke for itself.
As the doors opened for Ramen Gaoh’s first of three soft openings, curious customers quickly filed into the sub-40-seat restaurant, eager to also escape the chilly late October weather. The characters 牙王 — translated to “Teeth King” — were displayed outside, serving as the phonetic namesake of the restaurant.
A neatly polished 400-year-old Japanese cabinet from the Edo Era greeted the restaurant’s new arrivals. Not far away sat the cash register counter, inspired by the wooden barrels used to ferment miso; and also serving as a perfect symbol on what sets this restaurant apart.
Within minutes, the place was already packed. Kaito’s father, Kay, was front and centre greeting guests at the door while inviting those who arrived early to step inside first, out of the cold. As a former architect, the elder Kaneyoshi was the leading voice on the overall decor of the restaurant.
The rustic interior provided a familiar feel of traditional noodle shops, complemented by the smell of broth permeating the air. On this brisk Tuesday, the warmth emanating from the boiling water in the front open kitchen was more than welcoming.
For those already accustomed to the lengthy list of ramen options in this food-centric city, Ramen Gaoh certainly has an air of familiarity to it. Yet, it was noticeably different from Kaneyoshi’s other endeavours.
“We want to give everybody a variety of ramen,” he said. “The menu and concept is totally different [from Ramen Butcher and Gojiro]. We want to give an experience of ramen from different parts of Japan.”
For Gaoh, the focus is on the miso, which is imported from six different regions in Japan. The signature Scorpion Ramen encompasses a miso blend that challenges those with a taste for spiciness — highlighted by an option to add mouth-numbing levels similar to that of Szechuan cuisine.
Shiro Miso (white soybean paste), Aka Miso (red soybean paste), and the 100% vegan Misotarian round out the ramen lineup.
The drive for Kaneyoshi comes from providing diverse ramen selections — as clearly characterized with all three of his restaurants. Combine that with his passion for food and it explains why he left his previous career as a dental lab technician; and it’s what continues to push him to find success in an industry that sees a majority of restaurants not make it past its third year.
“If you want to bring a flavour to the people, wherever you are, you usually need to know the area yourself first,” he said. “I know growing up what I wanted to eat and figured out what people want too. So I wanted to bring something I wish I had here to Vancouver.”
Having familiar menu items helps too, especially in a hub of North American Asian Millennials who understand the ramen — and more generally, the soup noodle — culture. Even so, the restaurateur acknowledges the need to cater to the Canadian palette, which he kept in mind while overseas seeking the perfect taste for his ramen.
“Just think in general how many times a week you eat Asian food, it’s what people want,” he said. “People here understand what real, authentic ramen is.”
Location: 4518 E Hastings Street, Burnaby, B.C.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday
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