brandonramen.JPG
Brandon Ting
A popular Japanese ramen chain is planning to open its first U.S. location this month in Bellevue.

Kukai was lured to the same

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Japanese Ramen Chain Opening First U.S. Location in Bellevue Strip Mall

brandonramen.JPG
Brandon Ting
A popular Japanese ramen chain is planning to open its first U.S. location this month in Bellevue.

Kukai was lured to the same shopping plaza which houses Szechuan Chef by a pair of local businessmen from Turkey and Taiwan. Nuri Ayindel, a development manager at a food distribution company, and Brandon Ting, a grocery store manager, used to meet every Wednesday to trade entrepreneurial ideas.

"Then one day Brandon had the ramen idea," Ayindel says. "We did a lot of research and found a great franchise in Japan. Their food is amazing."

The Kukai (or, in Japan, Kookai) franchise has been praised by the English-language Japanese press for its thin, salty tonkotsu gyoukai broth and chilled tsukemen. "The dipping broth is comfortingly thick, in texture and in flavor, but with no cloying, lingering fatty aftertaste," the Japan Times reported in 2006. Reviewers are also struck by the Tokyo location's clean-lined décor: "It has a very modern atmosphere and a lot of the customers tend to be female," according to a SunnyPages blogger.

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"At first they didn't seem very interested," Ayindel says of early overtures to the company. "After a visit in Japan, they understood that we were serious and became more interested. It has been a great collaboration since then."

Ayindel and Ting are hosting the company's president and head chef on a Bellevue visit this week.

"We have done some test runs and the all the ramens were very delicious," Ayindel says. "It took us awhile to perfect the dishes but we succeeded. Ramen is a science more than anything."

While Ayindel didn't know much about ramen when Ting suggested it as a possible business venture, he says he's since learned how desperately it's desired by local noodle fans.

"I've been made aware of that," he says.

The restaurant is aiming for a late November or early December opening.

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