Hard to believe, but it’s been only a year and a half since Yuji Hariguchi first launched Yuji Ramen (95 Houston Street, 212-420-1320) as a pop-up in Kinfolk Studios. The mazemen wizard experienced a meteoric rise, landing a stand at Smorgasburg that propelled him into an extended stint at the Bowery Whole Foods, which had established what was supposed to be a rotating cadre of vendors.
He announced Okonomi, a brick-and-mortar spot, earlier this year, and now his ramen stand, which amassed legions of fans for its grab-and-go noodles and omakase dinners that sell out almost instantly, will become a permanent part of the Bowery Whole Foods. But that’s not all Hariguchi is working on.
Yuji Ramen will also operate a grab-and-go outpost in the Gowanus Whole Foods, which is slated to open on December 17. That stand, which will be a prominent fixture on the first floor, will feature no seating (ergo no omakase dinners) like its Manhattan sibling. But it will channel the same menu and philosophy: “We’ll have mazemen and some other dishes,” Hariguchi explains. “We’re hoping to have shoyu ramen as well. Each store has a butcher that has bones already, and we’re interested in working with each individual store and make that store’s broth.” He’ll also roll out a special dish for the Gowanus menu, which he’s previewing at the Bowery location right now — a spicy tuna ramen.
As for his new permanent residence at Bowery, Hariguchi says his tenure has lengthened because his use of the space has evolved. “Our original plan was two months,” he says. “But I always had an idea of doing a ramen tasting, and I never had a chance to do it. The space was perfect for omakase tasting, so I set up the tasting event.” Loyal customers also petitioned the Whole Foods to make Yuji permanent.
While those projects continue, Hariguchi is still working on Okonomi, a small space that will serve a traditional Japanese breakfast in the morning and then house his omakase tastings at night. That spot, he says, will open sometime in the new year.
As for whether omakase tastings will continue at the Bowery Whole Foods once his own shop is open, Hariguchi says he’s not sure yet. “I started this business a year and a half ago by myself, and it happened very fast,” he says. “I just want to make sure everything’s running well.” His first focus, he adds, will be on getting the Whole Foods outlets perfect before he moves onto expanding the model.