Jake Freed is a force of nature. If you have the pleasure to meet him, you’ll walk away feeling motivated and hungry for the delicious Shiba Ramen. Aside from bringing us excellent ramen, Jake and his wife Hiroko are taking customers at Public Market on their journey as they build a new restaurant element by element. Their food is served with a tremendous level of enthusiasm and an attention to authenticity that make Shiba Ramen a unique culinary treat and a great new purveyor for Public Market Emeryville. We talked with Jake to learn more about his inspiration and more about opening Shiba Ramen.
What inspired you to open Shiba Ramen?
We thought a fast-casual ramen concept was the perfect project for us, for a variety of reasons. First, the business opportunity. We love Japanese food, and after years of living on the Peninsula, we felt that the East Bay was really lacking in quality and accessible Japanese food, especially ramen. So we saw a market need locally, as well as a broader business opportunity because a lot of ramen awareness is growing on a national level, but the market is very immature and fragmented. Most ramen restaurants here don’t follow the quick-service model that is the hallmark of Japanese ramen, and nobody is trying to create a truly recognizable brand in the ramen space (setting aside the fancy not-really-Japanese places that, for better or worse, have predominated in recent years).
Second, this kind of business would fit nicely with our interests and backgrounds. Hiroko brings knowledge of Japanese culture, language, and food. She’d not only have a leg up in developing a Japanese food business, but it would give her an opportunity to express her cultural background. Hiroko is a chemist by training (as am I) and our view was that this kind of empirical, process-driven training would lend itself well to a process-focused food like ramen. We’re not restaurant people, after all, so we needed to focus on a food where we’d have special access to knowledge and where our existing skills would be best put to use.
From my perspective, this was a great chance to use the diverse skills one learns as a lawyer, from setting up a board of directors to applying for a trademark. And for both of us, this was a chance to invest in a project that was the next level up from the home renovations we’d been doing together for the previous few years. We love building things, we love design and architecture, and we love jumping into big projects where we don’t have experience, figuring out what we need to do, and getting our hands dirty.
Finally, this would give Hiroko a new career, which she needed after several years out of the workforce, and would give me a chance to do more professionally than just focusing on the same type of law, case after case, year after year, while working my way through a corporate hierarchy. Once we’d decided to do Shiba Ramen, it also gave me a chance to have a serious writing project as an adjunct to the business.
Why did you choose Public Market for your location?
Public Market was the first and only property we looked at. We immediately knew it was the right fit. With its abundant built-in foot traffic, it offered an opportunity for the type of volume business we knew we’d need to be successful serving ramen at a reasonable price point. It was geographically right in the middle of a sophisticated East Bay dining population that we knew from personal experience wanted more available ramen. And the barrier to entry would be lower, because we’d only have to worry about building the kitchen, and we wouldn’t have to manage a full dining room, bathrooms, etc. Finally, we liked what CCRP was trying to do in terms of revitalizing the food culture in an area of Emeryville that really needed that kind of attention. For our product and our level of experience, we couldn’t have found a better location.
What is your favorite dish?
I like the spicy and miso ramens the best–they are the most rich and satisfying things on our menu, in my view. I think Hiroko favors the clear ramen, which is light and versatile, and is a really authentic Japanese product. We also are excited about the Dry Ramen. This is called aburasoba or mazesoba in Japanese–all the essence of ramen, without the soup. This is a product not typically seen in the U.S. and we think there’s a lot of potential upside if we can build awareness of this ramen variation.
What do you cook yourself and your family at home?
At home, our favorite meals are simple ones with quality ingredients: charcoal-grilled meat or fish, roasted vegetables, heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden, cheese, and wine or beer. That sort of thing. When Hiroko has spare time, she’ll make a lot of Japanese dishes, but right now we’re all about simplicity when we cook for ourselves.
Click here to learn more about Shiba Ramen on their website.
Make sure to stop by Public Market Emeryville to try our newest purveyors.
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