Ramen Isshin brings Japanese cuisine to the Glebe

The three co-owners of the Ramen Isshin, from left, Jason Matsubara, Koji Zenimaru and Adam Chan.  
Credit: Mami Orihara

By Aaliyah Ngoy

What started as a friendship between a chef and two regular clients blossomed into three business owners running a successful restaurant franchise that has now expanded to Ottawa.

The Japanese restaurant Ramen Isshin, which already has three locations in Toronto and one in Quebec, opened in January in the heart of the Glebe at 775 Bank Street. It was restricted to take-out orders at first because of COVID restrictions but got a stream of orders.

The well-established restaurant has already made a name for itself in Toronto, ranking as one of the best in the city. That reputation followed it here.

“A lot of people in Ottawa already knew about us,” says Jason Matsubara, co-owner and overseer of the Ottawa location.

Seeing the demand for their restaurant in the capital led him to proceed with opening, despite the uncertainties of the pandemic.

“A lot of customers have been messaging us on Instagram and a variety of other social platforms,” he says. “And so we already had a decent idea of what areas always wanted us. Ottawa is one of the few locations that came up more than other locations.”

Their solid fan base plus government subsidies is what has kept them afloat. They’ve already attracted the likes of renowned food critic and TV food show host Mat Beausoleil. Having been to the Toronto location, Beausoleil knew he had to pay a visit in Ottawa.

“I was very excited to see them grace Bank Street here in Ottawa’s Glebe. Their broths offer a wide range of flavour profiles and complexity. Their approach to wok-fried vegetables in several of their ramen offerings instills a whole new level of umami (flavour). My favourite is the Stone Bowl Shoyu Kotteri Tsukemen. Dipping noodles are a new culinary experience here in Ottawa and are sure to stimulate your taste buds and keep you longing for more.”

The new Glebe Japanese restaurant, Ramen Isshin, opened in January at 775 Bank Street.
Credit: Emma Thompson

Matsubara co-owns the restaurant with his friends, Koji Zenimaru and Adam Chan. The trio have known each other for over a decade.  Back when Ramen Isshin was a mere thought, Zenimaru worked as a head chef at Kingyo Vancouver, where Chan and Matsubara often hung out.

“Koji always worked the sushi bar, so we would always sit in front of Koji, and we would always get along,” says Chan. “We would go there two to three times a week and we kind of just became friends,” says Matsubara.

Initially, it was Matsubara’s idea to start this restaurant. Chan, who had gone back to school at the time, agreed to go along for the ride. Zenimaru, who was already involved in running his own restaurant, refused Matsubara’s offer. After eight years of convincing, he finally agreed and they opened the first Ramen Isshin restaurant in Toronto in 2013.

Though it took a few years for customers to warm to their menu, Chan had a feeling their Japanese dishes would be a hit.

“Everybody already knew about sushi, so I don’t think it was that hard of a leap,” he says. “It did take a while to build and educate our customer base in Toronto. Introducing izakaya food and introducing ramen, it definitely took a few years to build a reputation.”

Since its opening, the trio have persevered with one common goal: to provide every customer with one bowl of ramen. Therein lies the meaning of the restaurants name.

“Isshin basically means one heart, in a way. That kind of matches our logo. Our logo is three large circles that intersect in the middle. Each of those circles represents one of the owners. We put our heart and soul into every bowl of ramen because we only have one chance to give our customer that first impression of us,” says Matsubara.

Matsubara visited different parts of the city to figure out where to establish the restaurant. The Glebe seemed ideal. And there no other ramen restaurants within walking distance. He was set.

“When we came here, I went to all the shops, including the knife shop across the street from us. People were so friendly,” he says.

With limited indoor dining resuming this month, the restaurant will be hosting a grand opening on February 18, offering some of their vegetarian ramen dishes at a reduced price of $8.88. And an added bonus – the open kitchen allows customers to watch their food being prepared.

So, calling all food lovers, 775 Bank Street might just be your new spot.

Aaliyah Ngoy is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University and a freelance writer based in Ottawa.

Share this