Facing rising competition and costs, Ramen House Ryowa to close after two decades in Mountain View | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Peninsula Foodist

By Elena Kadvany

E-mail Elena Kadvany

About this blog: Get the latest food news with the biweekly Peninsula Foodist newsletter.
I am a perpetually hungry twenty-something journalist, born and raised in Menlo Park and currently workin...  (More)

View all posts from Elena Kadvany

Facing rising competition and costs, Ramen House Ryowa to close after two decades in Mountain View

Uploaded: Jan 29, 2020
When Ramen House Ryowa opened in downtown Mountain View in 1997, it was reportedly the sole ramen shop in the area.

Now, there are at least four in the surrounding neighborhood, not to mention the explosion of international ramen chains up and down the Peninsula (including Ramen Nagi, Afuri, Taishoken and Ippudo, among others).

That competition, compounded by minimum wage increases, local tech companies providing free food to employees and the rising cost of operating a restaurant, all led to owner Rinaldi Surya's decision to close the 859 Villa St. ramen shop.


Owner Rinaldi Surya is closing Ramen House Ryowa at the end of the month. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

"Due to (the) high cost to operate a small business these days, especially a restaurant, we are forced to close our doors,” he said. "Mountain View has been a great place for our business but the drastic changes in minimum wage these past few years have affected us so much."

Ryowa will be open until the end of February. New owners are set take over on March 1, Surya said.

Surya is a former employee who bought the business from the original owner, Nobu Nishimura, when he retired in 2015. Nishimura also at one point operated a Ramen Ryowa in Berkeley that has since closed.

"My dad wanted to start a noodle shop because there weren't any good ones," Tomita Nishimura, the owner's son, told the Mountain View Voice in 2005.


The house tonkotsu ramen at Ramen House Ryowa in Mountain View. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

The pressure of Mountain View's minimum wage hikes — which are happening in cities throughout the Bay Area — was a major factor in the closure, Surya said. In 2015, when the city’s minimum wage rate was $10.30 per hour, the City Council voted to increase it to $15 an hour by 2018. Starting in 2019, the minimum wage is adjusted annually in January based on a regional Consumer Price Index.

The rate in Mountain View is now $16.05 an hour. (By comparison, Palo Alto's 2020 rate is $15.40, Menlo Park
s is $15, Redwood City's is $15.38, Sunnyvale's is the same as Mountain View and San Jose's is $15.25.)

Surya said he could only raise the price of ramen "so much to cover our costs."

While catering revenue has increased since he took over the business, dine-in sales have dropped, he said.

Surya has worked at Ryowa since 2000.

"I have seen couples come when they were dating and now their kids are in high school. Kids came when they were toddlers and (are) now working in one of those high tech companies," he said. "Some of our loyal customers became really good friends of mine. It's something that I will treasure forever."

According to a public ownership change notice, the new restaurant will be called Maruyama Mountain View.
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   10 people like this
Posted by dollarbin, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 9:38 am

dollarbin is a registered user.

Ryowa was the first place I ever had real restaurant ramen, and it really opened my eyes. In addition to the delicious food, I enjoyed the Japanese TV shows and the comic books. Although one time I randomly picked up one book, brought it to my table only to realize that it was most definitely NSFW. Despite the numerous choices now available, I will miss Ryowa.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by NOOOOOO!, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 9:49 am

NOOOOOO! is a registered user.

Everything I love(d) about MV is leaving and this one hits hard -- my family's go-to low-key ramen joint for the last decade. Sniff.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by oh noes, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 9:53 am

What a bummer! We drive from Woodside to MV to eat their ramen, which we prefer to anything else we've had on the peninsula. Honestly, it's more to our liking than any of the fancy places we've tried " and that's not even accounting for the ridiculous lines at some of the newer spots.

Will the new owners continue serving similar fare? Given the timing mentioned above, it sounds like they won't be renovating much, so perhaps the vibe/menu won't change too much?


 +   6 people like this
Posted by eater, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 10:10 am

Ryowa has been around a long time, but they have never impressed me. Many of the newer places have better quality (or maybe just less soggy) noodles as well as more flavorful soups and less greasy side dishes.


 +   16 people like this
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 10:23 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Sad news. It's a local institution. And as dollarbin mentioned above, many local people's introduction to "real" ramen with fresh noodles. And totally Japanese in format and style, including emphasizing counter seating. Japanese spoken (as at most ramen houses on the peninsula and south bay).

Longtime nearby competitor Maru Ichi is two blocks away on Castro's 300 block. Despite different styles and broths, they did tit-for-tat competition. MaruIchi introduced a very popular Hiyashi Chuka (cold ramen salad) for warmer weather; Ryowa had to do so too. Ryowa locally pioneered a very good Tsukemen (dipping noodles) with intense dipping sauce heavy with ginger, garlic chives, and pepper paste; Maru Ichi was obliged to add their own version.

I was in Maru Ichi few years ago after Sunset Magazine profiled downtown Mountain View's restaurant cluster, including those two longtime ramen houses. I congratulated manager Toru on a good mention in the article (which called Maru Ichi also a favorite of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg). Yes, he acknowledged; "but Ryowa got the photograph!"

Two newer restaurants also offer ramen within a block or two of those old standards. Shalala opened about 2010 focusing on hipper, contemporary Japanese ramen styles (at last check, all its broths were cloudy, none clear, with dosings of ingredients like nut pastes that people with food allergies need to be aware of). Ramen Izakaya Yu-Gen on Castro is just a few years old; serves very good, creative, authentic ramen combinations -- which vary over time and often add daily specials -- at lunch from a shorter ramen menu than Ryowa's or Maru Ichi's; it becomes an Izakaya for dinner service, with small plates and drinks. When Yu-Gen opened we noticed that the gyoza appetizers (always freshly made) were stunningly good, surpassing the high standard of both Ryowa's (cooking aromas from which often drifted around Villa Street around noon) and Shalala's. The chef from Japan who opened Yu-Gen then explained that he had carefully sampled the local competition, and deliberately set out to make better gyoza than the competitors.

I've had many good economical meals at all of these places, enjoyed them, and will miss Ryowa. It is hard to run a small inexpensive restaurant around here, and customers need to support the ones they like.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Frank Zajac, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 11:36 am

Better enjoy now what restaurants Downtown Mountain View has on offer because Mountain View's enlightened City Council plans on shutting down Castro Street.
Their plans include closing off the railroad crossing then converting to pedestrian access only. Ask any restaurant owner. Disaster.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Tod , a resident of Shoreline West,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Thanks so much for documenting the restaurant scene. It's sad. Restaurant business brought me to Mt. View, and I'm still bummed that we lost uncle franks almost ten years ago now. It's a very difficult decision to close. It was made easier for us by the smoker catching fire.... insurance helped pay the back lot of bills and we were done.....You never catch up,in the restaurant business and as an owner you end up working to keep your employees afloat. Working your ass off to go backwards. No way to live. We never caught up from the recession slow down. But as you described catering was where it was at... being the back of a bar helped, but 15-16 bucks is undoable. Hate to agree with wage slavery And I don't. But the numbers just don't pencil for what people want to pay...worker owned coop delivery/catering or sole proprietor seems like the only thing that makes sense...


 +   47 people like this
Posted by Euro implant, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 2:26 pm

TO FRANK ZAJAC:

Pedestrians-only downtowns are popular all over the world and thrive just fine.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Tim, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 3:55 pm

While I will miss Ryowa, when you've got to go, you've got to go. Many restaurants have sustained a business on the backs of poorly paid employees. This valley will continue to lose employees who cannot afford to live or travel to cities like Mountain View " unless they receive a decent wage. Sadly, good restaurants like Ryowa will be affected.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Tim, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 3:55 pm

While I will miss Ryowa, when you've got to go, you've got to go. Many restaurants have sustained a business on the backs of poorly paid employees. This valley will continue to lose employees who cannot afford to live or travel to cities like Mountain View " unless they receive a decent wage. Sadly, good restaurants like Ryowa will be affected.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Bean, a resident of another community,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 4:47 pm

@Tim - I think what you will find is that it is not the good restaurants--it is the cheaper ones. The ones where you can get a meal under $20. Pluto's in Palo Alto just disappeared, with presumably the same causes: high wages for employees, and high rent. It's just not going to be feasible to dine out soon, especially for a family.


 +   19 people like this
Posted by @Eater, not appropriate, a resident of Gemello,
on Jan 29, 2020 at 7:37 pm

@Eater, not appropriate is a registered user.

@EATER An iconic popular restaurant closes, and you feel the need to let us all know that it did not impress you. Really? Nobody cares. This is not a restaurant review, it's story about another small business forced out of our city by rising costs. It's a sad story. Does that impress you?


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Terel Beppu, a resident of another community,
on Jan 30, 2020 at 12:20 am

We learned of Ryowa's impending closure at our last visit and we're heartbroken. We are one of those families that met DiDi (the owner's nickname) when we were newlyweds 18 years ago. Today, our oldest is 12 years old, and Ryowa remains one of our family's favorite places to eat. The food is exceptional (and I count myself a Ramen aficionado), but as importantly, Didi and his staff have always been kind, generous, authentic people. The dream you made a reality will be forever missed but never forgotten, DiDi.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Garden Gnome, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:31 am

Sorry we lost another restaurant partially due to higher minimum wages.

I'm sure those that lost their jobs appreciate the higher wage.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Barry Wong, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 31, 2020 at 4:24 pm

Part of the problem is that many of these 'soup shops' (i.e. ramen, pho etc.)often charge too much for a bowl of soup & there is plenty of competition from other small restaurants.

To pay $15.00+ for a $1.00 worth of ingredients (at best) is foolhardy.

That is why Chinese food has gotten so competitive as well...cheap ingredients + high prices + rent = going out of business for many.

Another example of overpriced dining is paying $20.00 for a plate of spaghetti bolognese. A good hamburger is a far better deal & anyone can make spaghetti.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by beef steew, a resident of Addison School,
on Jan 31, 2020 at 11:40 pm

Don't forget-- Queen House is still there on Castro and very very good. I'm surprised no one has mentioned it.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 1, 2020 at 10:06 am

"The pressure of Mountain View's minimum wage hikes " which are happening in cities throughout the Bay Area " was a major factor in the closure, Surya said."

Actions have consequences. Minimum wage will kill local businesses, mainly leaving the large chains able to absorb the extra cost of doing business in a hostile environment.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Simple Solution, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Feb 4, 2020 at 3:57 pm

Just use more liquid (aka broth) & fewer/less solid ingredients.

Most folks around here will order the soups regardless of what they're actually paying for.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Simple Solution, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Feb 4, 2020 at 3:57 pm

Just use more liquid (aka broth) & fewer/less solid ingredients.

Most folks around here will order the soups regardless of what they're actually paying for.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Chuck H., a resident of Woodside,
on Feb 16, 2020 at 9:52 am

Ryowa was my first Ramen experience in my entire life and I have been hooked. Having visited all those other places that have been popping up, I still truly believe no other place can hold a candle against Ryowa. There's a level of quality and purity to the noodles here. The other places are just so heavy and dense. It hurts to eat.

My only hope is that the new place retains the original staff and at least some of the menu. I literally have no other place I can eat ramen if this place goes.

As a tangent, I sold off my supermarket of 28 years for similar reasons. It's just hard for small businesses to get by with the way the world economy is moving.



Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.

Email:

SUBMIT

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Stay up to date on local coronavirus coverage with our daily news digest email.

'A devastating impact:' The coronavirus claims Clarke's Charcoal Broiler, Mountain View's oldest operating restaurant
By Elena Kadvany | 23 comments | 8,049 views

The first few seconds after awakening; before I remember the virus
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 3,298 views

Can you stay healthy without making more trash?
By Sherry Listgarten | 6 comments | 2,692 views

Think about helping others in our coronavirus-affected area
By Diana Diamond | 7 comments | 2,514 views

Remember the failures for when it's time for fixes: COVID-19
By Douglas Moran | 19 comments | 1,942 views

 

DEADLINE EXTENDED

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details