With social distancing measures set to become our ‘new normal’ for some time to come, food and drink businesses across Wales are finding new ways to adapt for the long-term.
For Matsudai Ramen in Cardiff, a ‘pop up’ business model – which involved taking over the kitchens of existing restaurants and feeding multiple sittings in one night – meant that the business came to a complete stop as soon as the lockdown came into effect.
But, by switching to a new model and offering ‘assemble-at-home’ ramen kits for home delivery, founder James Chant has been able to breathe new life into his business, and even invest in permanent premises and an extra member of staff.
“When I started Matsudai Ramen as a nomadic supper club, the idea was to spend most of 2020 ‘popping up’ in other people’s restaurants, and to build brand awareness by trading at food festivals and summer events.
“Until March, it was all going to plan; pop up tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale, and I regularly had queues stretching out of the door for the limited number of walk-in spaces available.
“I was just a few weeks into a kitchen takeover in Roath when the lockdown came into effect, so it was a real blow to have to bow out early when we had such momentum, but the lockdown gave me time to reflect, come up with a plan, and launch the ramen kits.”
James’ first batch of frozen, assemble-at-home ramen kits sold out in a single day (over 400 portions), and that’s when he decided to take the plunge, invest in premises and hire extra staff to help him meet the demand.
James found a 520sq ft industrial unit in Taff’s Well which he has since converted into a fully functioning prep kitchen. He also took on a full-time chef and a part-time delivery driver and has now expanded his range to include fresh ramen kits, too; these offer a chance for people to try a different ramen style each month.
“The response to Matsudai has been mind-blowing, to be honest. I’ve been a guest on a cult podcast called Way of Ramen a few times, and they said they’ve had ton of messages from people who’ve opened Ramen pop-ups after listening to my original interview on that podcast. From the US to the Philippines, and multiple instances in the UK. It’s pretty crazy to think of the impact it has as a force for creativity, and for encouraging people to just get out there and do it.”
Matsudai showcases different kinds of ramen from around Japan – from super-rich tonkotsu and tori paitan broths; to more delicately balanced shio and shoyu bowls, and hearty, umami-stuffed miso bowls. There is always a vegan / vegetarian option available.
Each frozen Matsudai Ramen kit costs £7.50, and contains broth, tare (complex seasoning), aroma oil and a bundle of specially paired noodles. Fresh ramen kits are available as regular specials; these cost £20 for two. Each fresh kit comes with a custom hand-made noodle and full array of authentic toppings (e.g. the latest fresh kit came with sliced chicken breast chashu, menma (bamboo shoots), naruto (cured fish surimi), nori (seaweed) and ajitama – a seasoned, soft-boiled egg).
Matsudai Ramen home delivery is available in Cardiff, the Vale and into the South Wales Valleys; orders placed before Wednesdays will be delivered on Thursday and Friday. Delivery charges are calculated by distance and start at £3.
Of his plans for the future, James said,
“The great thing about operating in this way (home delivery) is that we now know we can keep things going no matter what happens in the next few months, and we can even get our ramen out to people who might be shielding or staying home as much as possible.
We’ve started experimenting with new recipes for the winter and can’t wait to share them.”