2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Richie Nakano of Hapa Ramen

2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Richie Nakano of Hapa Ramen
May 2013

Growing up, Richie Nakano’s Japanese-American family often ate big meals together, nudging the budding chef toward a career in food. Working as a waiter and bartender after high school, Nakano started cooking for himself and eventually enrolled in the California Culinary Academy, where he nurtured his culinary foundation.

Nakano started his career cooking Asian food, taking positions first at Sushi Ran and then Va de Vi and Pres a Vi. Looking to expand his repertoire, Nakano took a position at Nopa, where he learned about seasonality, California ingredients, and layering flavors. Right before working at Nopa, Nakano started his now popular blog linecook415.blogspot.com, where he covers everything from culinary school interns to aggressive Yelpers. At the same time, Nakano was eating a lot of ramen in the city and wanted a bowl that met his standards—made with better ingredients and proper technique.

In 2010, Nakano opened Hapa Ramen, a pop-up food stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. By teaming up with some of the best organic farmers and employing modern techniques, he is pushing beyond the concept of what traditional ramen can be. The San Francisco community is on board with Nakano’s approach; off the heels of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Nakano is opening Hapa, his first brick-and-mortar ramen noodle restaurant. Set to open in 2013, the restaurant will focus on non-traditional Japanese ramen.

Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef Richie Nakano

Katherine Sacks: Tell me about the Happa Ramen concept. How did you get started?
Richie Nakano: I was eating a lot of ramen but there was a lack of any ramen that used quality ingredients or that strayed from the traditional shio/shoyu/tonkotsu flavors. I started cooking ramen on my days off and having friends over to try it, and decided to go out on my own and take a risk. 

KS: What is your expansion plan? Where do you hope to take the concept?
RN: We're trying to get a brick and mortar open but it's been a headache. We'll get there eventually but I would love to open a couple places around the Bay Area. 

KS: What is the chef community like in San Francisco?
RN: It's pretty great. It's a small town and generally everyone contributes something different. There are little cliques and all but for the most part everyone is great and really supportive of each other. 

KS: What is the most challenging thing you've had to do in your career so far?
RN: Opening Hapa and getting through the first year. 

KS: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
RN: Getting my place open. Getting to a place where I feel like I can give my kids a really secure future. 

KS: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
RN: I don't eat out as much as I used to but I see all of the chefs at the market we sell at, and we feed many of them every week. And I've been able to offer advice on pop-ups to chefs that leave their jobs to start up a pop-up. 

KS: Where will we find you in 5 years?
RN: In San Francisco, hopefully opening up ramen places here and there. Or maybe in Tokyo.  Heh. 

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