Nov. 17, 2023 By Tammy Scileppi
Ramen is trending. These days, there seems to be a “cool factor” associated with the cheap and quick comfort fare that has kept thousands of college students on a tight budget from going hungry.
Last summer, a hip Long Island City couple took the ordinary to a whole new level with a different take on ramen and turned a simple idea into a unique eating experience.
Ramen lovers were intrigued when Tat Lee, 26 and Cierra Beck, 27, opened their new neighborhood eatery where patrons can cook your own flavorful instant soup thanks to an innovative “Noodle Cook Machine” from Korea, while choosing from a cornucopia of 115 different instant noodle options!
With the success of Instant Noodle Factory, located at 24-11 41st Ave. in Long Island City, the hardworking husband-and-wife owners decided to open another one location in the East Village at 130 East 7th St., which debuts Nov. 27.
The young entrepreneurs told QNS that they began their courtship over steaming bowls of instant ramen at Lee’s apartment. It was a memorable first date.
“We started dating five years ago and got married two years ago, and throughout our relationship, we have constantly been sampling new instant noodle flavors and varieties, together,” Beck shared. “We cook a lot at home, and often cook proteins to put in our noodles. Throughout the years, we created some super-delicious bowls, which we wanted to share with others. We also had several favorite noodles (types) that were hard to find in the states, and we wanted to make those noodles more accessible.”
Beck said Instant Noodle Factory was the couple’s first venture into the food service industry.
So, why should folks get excited about instant noodles?
“Instant noodles are so much more than just a cheap college meal. Particularly in Asian culture, including my home country of Hong Kong, they are a popular choice for a quick snack or a full meal with the addition of meats and veggies,” said Lee said, adding that he grew up eating instant noodles with spam for breakfast.
Customers can enjoy countless flavors – “ranging from super spicy to savory meat to delicate, clear broth,” according to Lee.
Another reason the restaurant has become so popular is that there are numerous noodle options that are hard to find in American grocery stores, such as the Angry Neoguri, Samyang Ginseng Chicken, Buldak 3x spicy and Hong Kong exclusive cup noodles. And there’s something tasty for everyone, including vegetarian, vega, and gluten-free offerings.
The noodle cooking machines add a cool vibe, and they are a brand new concept that you can’t find anywhere else in the United States, according to Beck.
When you stop by, place your order at the computer kiosk and have fun sampling and comparing the American versions to the Korean styles.
According to Lee, the Korean noodle variations tend to have a chewier noodle and a stronger flavor.
“For example, we currently are selling the Korean Shin Black, which has a much chewier and less processed noodle than the American version and a more intense soup flavor. And you get an extra toppings packet, including real beef and mushroom pieces,” he explained.
Instant Noodle Factory also offers eight “combo” dishes, which feature some of their popular noodles paired with various toppings. Customer favorites include the Beef Birria ($8), Kangshifu beef noodle with their signature beef birria meat, corn and jalapeños; as well as Duck Duck Noods ($9), two Mama Duck Noodles (a double noodle, so two full noodle packets go into this dish), with their signature pulled duck leg, a soft-boiled egg, and scallions.
Aside from their combos, the restaurant’s “star” noodle is the Buldak carbonara, a spicy and cheesy flavor bomb ($4.50).
The new Manhattan location will feature many of the same noodles as the LIC eatery but will have a more limited selection; instead of the 115 noodle options, the new place will offer 90 options with some East Village exclusive choices.
“We are going to keep many of our popular combo bowls, including the Beef Birria and the Classic Tonkotsu, but will be offering some new combo options, including a chicken noodle soup, a surf and turf bowl and a sweet and sour pork bowl,” Beck noted.
After a customer orders their noodles, the staff puts the order together on a tray, which they bring out to them. Then an employee explains how to use the special machine. All the customer has to do is take the bowl on their tray (which contains their chosen noodle plus any toppings) and press the button number indicated on the tray. This will dispense boiling water and start a cooking timer, which will beep once it reaches “zero,” indicating that the soup is done and ready to be enjoyed.
These days, launching a new business in New York City is more challenging than ever. The owners discussed some of their challenges with Schneps Media.
“Definitely very challenging, particularly being in the food service space. We had a vision for how we wanted the store to look, and we found a great retail space, which used to be a plant shop. We had to do a lot of work to turn the space into a food service establishment, and we did a lot of the work ourselves,” Lee recalled. “When we first opened, we couldn’t afford to hire any employees (now we have six) and spent the first month working the store seven days a week, by ourselves. We truly believe in our concept and were motivated to work hard and share our love of instant noodles with others and hopefully, positively change the way they might view instant noodles.”
Instant Noodle Factory is located at 24-11 41st Ave. in Long Island City. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.