John and Shauna Chin, of Sonora, see potential for success in doing something different.
That’s one reason why the couple recently opened Yoshoku Ramen Noodle Bar at 110 S. Washington St. in Sonora. The new restaurant adds a taste of Japan to the growing stock of eateries in the city’s historic downtown district. It occupies the building that for years housed The Lasso coffee shop, and later the Diamondback Grill before its move to bigger quarters.
“Sonora is a hub for all of the other surrounding towns, as well as a tourist destination,” said John Chin, 34. “I see huge potential, and we bring something different.”
While many might immediately think of ramen noodles as a cheap, microwaveable meal consumed by the ton by college-aged kids across the country, classier versions of the dish have become wildly popular in recent years outside of the dorm room.
The ramen trend has been raging in urban settings like the Bay Area and Los Angeles, so the Chins wanted to get in on the ground floor in Sonora.
“I see huge opportunities for areas that don’t serve exotic food that’s popular in urban areas,” said John Chin, who majored in marketing management at California State University, Los Angeles.
Prior to opening the new restaurant on Jan. 12, the Chins already had a built-in reputation and customer base from operating a sushi franchise for the past two-plus years at the Safeway store on Sanguinetti Road in Sonora.
They moved to the area from Los Angeles, where they had lived for 18 years, in May 2014 to take over the franchise. They recently returned it back to the franchiser to focus on the new restaurant, and John Chin said he is enjoying his newfound culinary freedom.
“There’s no limitation on what I want to do with my menu,” Chin said.
Yoshoku’s menu is more simplified than some of the ramen joints in the big city, Chin said.
They offer nine different soup-base types that are all served with toppings including pork belly, egg, scallion, corn, seasoned bamboo shoots and pickled ginger. Chin said his version of the dish offers the customer more bang for their buck.
“What’s different from us than the Bay Area is that they limit their topping to about two or three whereas we put six to seven, so you get the whole nine yards for literally about the same price,” Chin said.
The Chins say business has been even better than expected since opening, with many people giving positive feedback on social media and popular food websites.
John Chin said they underestimated the demand in the first week they were open and actually had to shut down for a day after running out of supplies. He drives to San Jose each week because no delivery services closer offer the products he needs.
“We literally ran out of the supplies we had in four days, which is a good problem to have,” he said. “One of the major challenges is just getting the supply.”
Shauna Chin said not much has changed through the second week of business, with lunchtime rushes still as busy as ever.
“There has been good comments and some improvements,” she said. “It’s all been positive.”
Jim Hildreth, of Sonora, was eating a black garlic oil ramen bowl for lunch Tuesday with his with wife, Myla, and her daughter, Hermione, 4, who are both from the Philippines.
All three gave the restaurant a glowing review.
“It was our first visit,” Hildreth said. “I just think the flavors were terrific. It’s a real complement to our downtown community.”