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Photo from Ramen Isshin's Instagram.

Toronto’s Ramen Isshin gets ready to open Ottawa location

By Artyom Zalutskiy on January 28, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to ravage the restaurant industry with the government closing indoor dining once again. But despite these disruptions, early 2022 should see the debut of a number of new restaurants in Ottawa, among the most notable of which is Ramen Isshin.

Toronto-based Ramen Isshin currently has four locations in the Toronto area, one in Brossard, Quebec, and now the new Ottawa location in the Glebe, which is set to open in February.

Photo from Ramen Isshin’s Instagram.

Ever since they opened their doors eight years ago, Ramen Isshin has been wowing its customers, quickly gaining a reputation as one of Toronto’s best ramen spots. In an interview, the restaurant’s managing partner Jason H. Matsubara outlined that one of the keys to their success has been executive chef Koji Zenimaru, whose Japanese, Chinese, and French training has allowed Ramen Isshin to strike a balance between perfecting classic menu items and experimenting with more unique flavours and techniques.

Matsubara said that due to the wide range of Zenimaru’s culinary knowledge, their “best selling ramens are the miso, spicy miso and red dragon, which are made in a wok. Many people are surprised, but imagine the smokiness that the wok gives that will be infused into the ramen.” While this process does take longer, it’s made the restaurant highly rated in Toronto. Another unique item on the menu that showcases the restaurant’s fusion cuisine is the black sesame tan tan ramen, which is comparable to Sichuan-style dan dan noodles but still features a traditional tonkontsu broth and Japanese-style pork.

The restaurant’s menu also features a number of vegetarian ramens, such as spicy red miso and garlic shoyu, and is rounded out with a variety of appetizers like fried chicken, gyoza, and takoyaki (fried octopus balls).

Photo from Ramen Isshin’s Instagram.

“Ottawa has been one of the three locations that we’ve been looking to expand into for the past three or four years, but the timing wasn’t right every time we looked,” said Matsubara. Eventually, a spot in the heart of the Glebe on Bank Street opened up in August and it was off to the races for the Ramen Isshin team. The restaurant was originally set to open in December, but due to the challenge of finding labour close to the holidays, as well as the continuing COVID-related struggles, the opening was pushed back to February.

Ottawa was chosen by the Ramen Isshin team for a number of reasons. Due to Ottawa’s relative proximity to Toronto, many people are already familiar with the brand, and the city already has a few ramen restaurants that are very popular with residents, proving that another one can fare very well in Ottawa. Matsubara and the Isshin team feel that their restaurant’s flavour profile and style are rather different and unique, allowing them to take advantage of the city’s desire for ramen and carve out their own space within the market.

Photo from Ramen Isshin’s Instagram.

When asked if the Ottawa location would differ from others, Matsubara emphasized the team’s desire to maintain consistency between locations, saying, “Our goal is to be similar to McDonalds, where a Big Mac tastes the same in every city across Canada. We’ve designed our training and supply chain systems to ensure we have a good consistent flavour profile across locations. As for local flavour profiles, we do take these into consideration and will make locally specific dishes as well.”

Going forward, Ramen Isshin has lofty goals and hopes to extend its reach even further. “Our Ottawa restaurant on Bank Street will be the first of what we hope will be more locations. With each location, we want customers to have the same experience as if I was running the shop myself. We want customers to immerse themselves and feel like they’ve stepped into a traditional Japanese ramen shop in Japan.” said Matsubara.

The Isshin team hopes to eventually enter both the American and European markets, but plans to open close to 20 locations across Canada before making the jump into another country.