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KC Craft Ramen in Overland Park, Kansas, already has lines out the door: 'We are so lucky'

Couple Akiko, left, and Kenichi Ota opened KC Craft Ramen with longtime friend Hiroyuki Kawashima last June in Overland Park, Kansas.
Claudia Brancart
/
KCUR 89.3
Couple Akiko (left) and Kenichi (right) Ota opened KC Craft Ramen with longtime friend Hiroyuki Kawashima in June 2023 in Overland Park, Kansas.

Since opening last June, the compact ramen shop near 119th Street and Metcalf Avenue has become a destination for its rich flavors and and lively atmosphere. KC Craft Ramen has also become a gathering place for Kansas City's Asian community.

KC Craft Ramen opened in June 2023 in the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter near 119th Street and Metcalf Avenue. Despite its suburban facade, this lively spot is unlike any other ramen shop in Kansas City.

“It's definitely not one of your typical restaurants,” says server Lucy Verhulst, who grew up in Olathe and studies Japanese at Johnson County Community College.

“The setup is a little bit different. It kind of reminds me more of KC Joe's, especially when you come up here, order, pay up front and then you guys are seated.”

Similar to that legendary barbecue joint, KC Craft Ramen doesn’t take reservations, and there’s almost always a line. But it moves quickly.

Once inside, diners are ushered into a narrow aisle lined with anime action figures, colorful Japanese snacks and glowing cases of refrigerated Asian sodas, beers and more.

Anime action figures and rows of Japanese snacks are lined up along an aisle.
Claudia Brancart
/
KCUR 89.3
Once inside the restaurant, diners are ushered into a narrow aisle lined with Anime action figures, colorful Japanese snacks and glowing cases of refrigerated Asian sodas, beers and more.

KC Craft Ramen is owned by couple Kenichi and Akiko Ota and friend Hiroyuki Kawashima. After helping open and operate several ramen restaurants across the country, the three decided to relocate to Kansas City and create their own place.

The concept of noodles in broth was brought to Japan by Chinese migrants in the late 1800s. Over the years, Japanese chefs created and perfected their own recipes, inventing what we know as ramen. By the 1970s, instant ramen was ubiquitous, and today, nearly every region in Japan has its own variation on the dish.

“Ramen is very unique food, unlimited style with the ramen flavor, more than 100, more than 1,000 styles of ramen. So I want to bring wisdom to show people ramen is very unique,” says Kenichi Ota.

A bowl of ramen noodle soup sits on a counter.
Claudia Brancart
/
KCUR 89.3
KC Craft Ramen makes everything from scratch, including its noodles and broth, which has a rich, umami flavor made by simmering pork and chicken bones for hours.

In the nine months since opening, KC Craft Ramen has held two popup events where the owners fly out professional ramen chefs all the way from Japan to take over the menu for a weekend.

The restaurant makes everything from scratch, including its noodles and broth, which has a rich, umami taste made by simmering pork and chicken bones for hours.

“It's a complex flavor. It has a lot of notes or profiles, I would say, and it's really good,” says regular customer Enrique Avila. “You get a full meal in a soup bowl.”

Ota says the Asian community is on the smaller side in Kansas City, and that exposure to Japanese food and culture is limited. That's one of the reasons they decided to move and open their restaurant here.

“New York has a lot of ramen store already, so I want to make it special,” he says.

According to the 2022 Census, 9% of people in Overland Park identify as Asian alone (not including those who identify as mixed-race). In Kansas City, Missouri, that number is less than 3%.

Server Bethany Difuntorum, who is Filipina, moved to Johnson County from Oklahoma last year. She applied to work for KC Craft Ramen when she saw the line out the door.

A women wearing a black shirt and a name tag that says "Bethany" smiles.
Claudia Brancart
/
KCUR 89.3
Server Bethany Difuntorum, who’s Filipina, moved to Johnson County from Oklahoma last year and applied to work for KC Craft Ramen when she saw the line out the door.

Difuntorum appreciates how the job has helped her connect with the Asian diaspora in Kansas City.

“Just by bringing the Japan culture and how they're authentic here is a really good way to spread Asian awareness in this community and Overland Park,” she says.

Given their current success, and consistent lines out the door, the Otas and Kawashima hope to open new restaurants across the metro that highlight different types of Japanese food.

“People say to us, ‘Thank you for coming to KC,’" says Ota. “So that makes me cry. Oh, wow. How nice those people are. We are so lucky.”

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Claudia Brancart is an Up To Date producer for KCUR 89.3. She graduated from Pitzer College in Los Angeles where she majored in World Literature and Studio Art. You can reach her at claudiab@kcur.org.
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