By Leslie Lum
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
When Brandon Ting, founder of Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya, a growing international chain of ramen restaurants, first arrived at Bellevue College, he was placed into English Level 2 for non-English speakers.
“They felt sorry for me,” remembers Ting. “I should have been placed in English Level 0 because I couldn’t speak a word of the language.”
Through an incredible amount of determination and hard work, Ting graduated from Bellevue College with high grades and was admitted to the University of Washington (UW) Foster School of Business, one of the top-ranked business schools in the country.
Determination and hard work are traits that Ting had carried throughout his career, but he also had the uncanny ability to seize opportunity. A classmate at Bellevue College recommended that Ting travel up to Vancouver, B.C. to try ramen. He did and fell in love with the food genre. Later, another Bellevue College classmate he visited in Shanghai recommended that Ting try a new restaurant chain. It was ramen.
Along with some classmates from UW Foster, Ting decided to explore the idea of a ramen startup in 2010. While holding a full-time job, he spent all of his spare time studying restaurants, estimating sales, trying to discern costs, and evaluating service. He compiled over 200 restaurants in Excel spreadsheets.
But the difficult part was the high art of ramen. Complexly flavored, the perfect bowl of ramen combines clear broth with the right combination of noodles, meat, seafood, and vegetables. A Japanese cult favorite movie, “Tanpopo,” describes how difficult it is to develop the aromatic stock which contains up to 50 ingredients and is simmered for hours. There are tens of thousands of ramen shops in Japan, and no one wanted to share the secrets of their ramen.
Ting was determined to serve only authentic Japanese ramen, so he traveled to Japan and contacted all the ramen chains in Japan to inquire if they would be willing to partner with him. Only one chain replied. Next, Ting had to work on the red tape to bring in the ingredients of the broth, some of which the Food and Drug Administration had never heard of.
If that wasn’t enough to keep him up at nights, Ting thought long and hard about the debt he would have assumed to get his startup off the ground. He calculated that if his venture failed, it would take him 15 years of work to repay the debt.
It was with all this trepidation that Ting and his partners opened their first restaurant in Bellevue, working 90 hours a week to ensure that it was flawless. The result? Long lines formed at the restaurant almost immediately. It was a winning formula. Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya now has 13 locations in four U.S. states, and locations in Taiwan and Australia.
Ting continues to insist on the full Japanese experience, flying in a designer from Japan to create the atmosphere of a Japanese ramen shop with open kitchen and caring customer service. Even with 700 employees, he has continued to support his alma mater Bellevue College by hiring current students as servers and alumni as managers. Just recently, Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya made the exponential leap to the next level by hiring top management from Starbucks and Tesla for operations and construction. Ting has assembled a team that has experience with sales in the billions.
Are there more secrets to his incredible success? What mistakes did he learn from?
Find out more at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s API Entrepreneurs Roundtable, “What Asian American entrepreneurs are afraid to ask—and how it stops them from succeeding,” on Oct. 25 at China Harbor Restaurant starting at 11 a.m.
To purchase tickets, go to https://apientrepreneurs.bpt.me.