Kaedama looks to expand on ramen success story

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Kaedama looks to expand on ramen success story

Kaedama is crowdsourcing the opening of their first location through Kickstarter.

Kaedama is crowdsourcing the opening of their first location through Kickstarter.

Elenie Gonzalez

Kaedama is crowdsourcing the opening of their first location through Kickstarter.

Elenie Gonzalez

Elenie Gonzalez

Kaedama is crowdsourcing the opening of their first location through Kickstarter.

Elenie Gonzalez, Staff Reporter

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It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night and multiple cars begin pulling into an empty parking lot across the street from the Monarch and Prickly Elder bars on Rio Grande Avenue just off Mesa Street–except people are not going to the bars.

Instead, they begin forming a line right in the middle of the lot, but there’s nothing there.

If you happen to be passing by, you might find yourself wondering what these people are lining up for. It must be something important, especially if the people are practically running to get in line and it continues to grow.

Around 30 minutes later, a white van pulling a green 1976 VW bus with Japanese lettering and the word “Kaedama” plastered in the center pulls up and cheers erupt from the crowd.

Three young guys jump out of the white van and into the green bus and get to work.

Anticipation fills the air, along with the sound of a noisy generator.

The hunger is real, as Kaedama creators Gabe Valencia and Andres Romero and their employee Luis Hernandez began preparing their famous ramen that draws fans from across El Paso and Juárez.

Kaedama is El Paso’s first authentic Ramen shop—only it’s not a shop, it’s a food truck.

Romero and Valencia, both El Paso natives, met in 2013 when they began working at Sabertooth Food Co., a small eatery located next to Hope and Anchor patio bar on the westside. Immediately, they formed a friendship that would change the course of their future. The two men, who were once roommates, began talking about their dreams of one day opening their own restaurant.

Today, that dream is almost a reality.

In 2015, Romero bought the VW bus simply because he liked the vehicle. It was actually his second bus he had purchased after the first one burst into flames on the freeway.

After buying the second bus, Romero and Valencia had come across some pictures of other food trucks that were made out of the same vehicle and that sparked an idea.

They began transforming it into a food truck before even knowing what type of cuisine they would serve.

“We turned it into a food truck before we even knew what we were going to sell, what our menu was, what our concept was,” Romero recalls. “We thought, you know what, let’s cut the bus open, turn it into a food truck, and we’ll worry about the rest later.”

Valencia, 30, has a background in culinary arts after obtaining an associate’s degree from Le Cordon Bleu, the world’s largest culinary and hospitality institution.

Romero, 23, has been serving at restaurants since he was 16 years old.

They began experimenting with traditional Japanese-style ramen and made the decision to serve the dish because there was nothing like it in El Paso.

They began experimenting with traditional Japanese style ramen and made the decision to serve the dish because there was nothing like it in El Paso. According to the guys, El Paso didn’t need a Ramen food truck, they just needed ramen.

As for the name of the food truck, Kaedama, it has a meaning behind it that ties right into their ramen concept. It means an extra portion of noodles to finish off the broth.

“The bus took us about six months to build and we were still working while that was happening,” Romero said. “Once it was ready and we decided what to serve, we took the steps to get it open.”

After getting approval from their former boss, together they left Sabertooth Food Co. about a month prior in order to focus on their business.

“We left at the same time with the blessing of the owner, who is a great friend of ours,” Valencia said.

On April 18, 2016, after having passed their inspection, they launched the food truck that same night.

“We didn’t sleep the night before because we were so nervous,” Valencia said. “On the day of, we woke up, got inspected, we passed–‘Alright! We’re selling tonight.’” 

These owners were about to see their dream unfold after two years of envisioning it.

Valencia, who was excited but also anxious about what had just occurred, tried talking his friend out of his crazy idea.

“We hadn’t planned everything out yet,” Valencia said. “But he (Romero) convinced me. I literally launched our social media pages as we were driving away with our inspection pass. That’s when everyone found out. We went out that night, and posted up at Blackbird (Cantina), and it took us about two hours to set up before we could sell our first bowl.”

Romero said they had parked on an incline and that caused the generator not to work.

“We only had about 10 people that first day, but it took us hours to set up and prepare,” Valencia said. “After a few weeks of going out there, we got our system going and each week got smoother. Now it takes us 10 minutes to set up.”

The first day may have started with just 10 people, but now the lines have grown longer and longer, and most nights they sell out.

Junior psychology major and regular customer, Vanessa Caraveo, loves coming out to support the food truck.

“All the food is delicious,” Caraveo said. “The prices are great for the amount of food you get and everything tastes fresh and flavorful. The spicy miso ramen and sushi burrito are my favorite.”

Aside from the four different types of ramen they serve, Kaedama is also known for their monster sushi roll called the sushi burrito. A 6 by 3-inch roll packed with cucumber, cream cheese, carrot, purple cabbage, crab and served with their homemade eel sauce.

About a year and a half has passed since the duo launched their food truck, but their dream isn’t over yet.

Now that they have drawn in a cult fan base, it is time for Romero and Valencia to open up a standing restaurant, the one they were originally planning for before the food truck came to life.

On Oct. 13, 2017, they officially announced on their Facebook and Instagram pages, that they will be opening a restaurant. It will be located where Tom’s Folk Café once stood on 204 Boston Ave. near UTEP.

Although, a lease has been signed, they still need help with funding to ensure they can open their doors by the end of the year.

A campaign to raise funds for the restaurant was launched through Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website.  The donations made through Kickstarter will only be collected if the goal is met within 30 days.

“We won’t keep a penny if we don’t meet our goal, which is $15,000,” Romero stated. “We have over 13,000 followers on our social media pages, so we’re hoping that we do meet our goal.”

So far, the campaign has raised $2,250 in three days with 28 backers.

The money they raise will go toward paint, decor, bowls, plates, plumbing costs, inventory, a sign, a noodle cooker and various other things that are necessary to be able to open the restaurant.

They want their restaurant to become a hangout spot during lunch and dinner, and even after hours when the bars close.

“Being so close to the dorms at UTEP and the bars in the area, we want to be a place for people to come have fun and eat good food,” Valencia said.

Opening a restaurant will also help serve a larger customer base.

“Selling out is a good problem to have, but we hate turning people away,” Valencia said. “We’re maxed out on manpower and fridge space, and taking this from a food truck to a restaurant will help remedy that.”

If they don’t meet their goal within 30 days, they plan to relaunch a fundraising campaign immediately to keep the momentum going.

“It’s going to be an awesome thing for everyone, especially in the university area,” Valencia said. “Any support in getting us there is greatly appreciated, even the smallest amount helps. If everyone who follows us just donated $1, we would be most of the way there.”

You can find the green 1976 VW bus in a lot across from Monarch and Prickly Elder on 204 E. Rio Grande Ave. every Wednesday through Saturday from 7 p.m. until sell out, which usually happens around 9:30 p.m. or sooner.

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