Downtown Hattiesburg restaurant The Depot hosted its first ever Ramen Night last Thursday, Aug. 30.
The event was such a success that the amount of money made in two hours during Ramen Night matched the amount made during a normal business day, with The Depot having to turn away customers before the end of the night.
The idea for Ramen Night came from The Depot’s chef Josh Casper.
While The Depot is not usually open after 4 p.m., Casper decided to try having occasional special event dinners. The first dinner was a private event that required people to purchase tickets in advance. Tickets for the event quickly sold out, and The Depot’s first dinner event was a success.
As a result of this success, Casper began making plans for more special event dinners. Ramen Night was the first public dinner event, meaning that anyone could come and place an order on a first-come, first-serve basis. Casper created a menu filled with Japanese-inspired dishes, among which were chicken shio ramen, okonomiyaki, tofu Coney Island and chaschu pork cubano.
“I’ve loved ramen for a while,” Casper said. “Not so much the prepackaged stuff college kids love to boast about eating all the time. More so, the composed bowl of ramen where each ingredient is somewhat complex.”
Casper said that he was inspired by chef Ivan Orkin, otherwise known as “Ivan Ramen.” After buying Orkin’s cookbook and making some ramen at home, Casper decided to bring the ramen to the public through The Depot.
Preparing the food for Ramen Night took Casper and his cooking staff three days to complete, from making broth to cooking eggs and the other components of the food that was served.
Perfecting the gooey egg was the most challenging part according to Casper.
“You have to cook them for a little over six minutes, then place them directly into an ice bath to stop them from over-cooking,” Casper said. “This creates that infamous gooey center, while the white is cooked through.”
Nevertheless, Casper put in the effort and personally prepared the eggs.
“After I cooked about 130 eggs, I had to peel each one myself and place them in our marinade. I spent about three hours on eggs alone,” Casper said.
The Depot spread word of Ramen Night through Facebook and posts on other social media outlets such as Instagram.
Jennifer Lewis, head barista at The Depot, also helps run the business’ social media pages.
“We have a pretty big following on our Facebook page,” Lewis said. “People shared, went on Instagram. There were hashtags. It was cool that everything happened so organically.”
The marketing paid off, as lines extended from The Depot’s doors to the street. Starting at 6:30 in the evening, enough people had continually ordered food that the restaurant ran out of everything only an hour later.
“We actually had to turn people away an hour and a half in,” Lewis said.
Not only did many people attend the event, the food was met with positive reception.
Jessica Bunales, Southern Miss’ manager of outreach for the British Studies Program, said she enjoyed the food.
“I had the okonomiyaki, chicken shio ramen and the matcha tres leches cake with coconut,” Bunales said. “It was all delicious. I was especially surprised by how much I liked the okonomiyaki because I have never had anything like it before.”
The okonomiyaki, an Osaka-style, savery cabbage pancake with pork belly, scallion, okonomi sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, crisp rice and a bonito flake, was also the favorite dish of chef Casper and barista Lewis.
“[The okonomiyaki is] just so satisfying, texturally, and has a lot of fun flavors bouncing around. It also looks really crazy when plated, which I thought was fun,” Casper said.
Bunales added that the people who accompanied her to Ramen Night also enjoyed the food.
“Everyone I ate with was 100 percent satisfied with their meal. I don’t think we left any of it to waste,” Bunales said.
The ramen itself, chiefly the chicken one, was the highest selling dish that night.
“I always have room to improve,” Casper said, “but I thought it was a great night for our first Ramen Night and hope we have many more to come.”