After decades in the industry, Sarah and Mike Hoard have recently launched their first restaurant, Ramen Chops, a noodle shop. We recently sat down with Sarah over a few bowls of ramen to discuss the eatery, and how a Japanese phenomenon has taken root in Monument.
Editor’s note: This is the extended interview with Ramen Chops owner Sarah Hoard. A shortened version of this interview ran in the Sept. 4 issue of The Tribune.
Begin by sharing your background, both in and outside the restaurant industry. The culinary world drew you back in. How?
From age 12 I grew up in the restaurant industry around Detroit. I left college after a semester and began working at bd’s Mongolian Grill. I was lucky enough to climb the ladder there and soon I was flying around the country opening new restaurants. At 19, I became the youngest manager ever hired for that restaurant group.
My husband Mike and I met while opening restaurants in Florida. We eventually moved to Palmer Lake to be with family. We had three kids during this time, and friends kept asking us to open a restaurant. We’d dream about it for a minute and then decide “No way.”
After a successful stint outside the restaurant industry we experienced the hardest, yet most beautiful, year of our life learning who we were. We spent all of 2018 really diving into becoming our best selves. Eventually, we decided restaurants are our passion; is what we were made to do. And then the pieces just started to fall into place.
Why Monument specifically? Why fast casual? Why ramen?
We’ve lived in Monument for almost 13 years and wanted to get to know our community better. We also love working close to home; that was a big deal to us because we want to be able to open for our guests even if there is a snow storm.
We chose fast casual for a few reasons, including wanting to be another option for families who have a lot of mouths to feed, but still enjoy going out to dinner together.
Ramen is the world’s best comfort food. It gives me this warm fuzzy feeling and the flavor is so comforting. Actually, it was a Chef’s Table episode, with Ivan Orkin, that really inspired us to explore ramen. Once we knew we wanted to be in Monument with a fast casual restaurant we knew we didn’t want to be another sandwich shop or pizza shop or burger joint. We wanted to bring something fresh and new to Monument.
Tell me about your menu and its evolution.
When we first opened we had pork tonkotsu broth. It was creamy and fatty and delicious, but very few chose it. We decided to take it off the menu because it takes a while to make and it’s just not what this community wants, and that’s okay. We’ve added things like sparking water, raw carrots, and raw cabbage to the line in response to guests’ requests. We also changed our chicken broth soon after opening. It was traditional chicken shio, broth made from the whole chicken and salt. However, Americans want more flavor, so we added ingredients like Kombu and mushrooms to the broth. The compliments came rushing in once that changed.
Our community is diverse in diets. So, it has served us well using gluten-free soy sauce in our homemade sauces, and not using any MSG. The zucchini noodles are a surprise hit. Vegans, gluten-free and low-carb eaters can enjoy most of our ingredients — a huge win.
After serving thousands of bowls, we decided to add a simple bowl called “the Preston” — just chicken soup with a few well-known veggies and Parmesan. A portion of each “Preston” sold goes to Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in honor of our son Milo’s best friend, Preston, who has CF and lives in Palmer Lake. So guests can have dinner and help a cause.
You clearly put a lot of thought and effort into the build-out of your eatery. What were some of the thoughts and driving forces behind what we see?
Mike was kind enough to trust me wholly with the design, but he wanted a lot of wood in the shop. The wood for our community tables and our bar came from the Black Forest Fire. These were huge logs and our dear friend Leon Hallauer milled them into these gorgeous tables. Another local artist and friend, Jodi Bliss, fabricated the restaurant’s metal work.
What has been the community’s response?
The response has been incredible. We have regular guests who come to see us multiple times a week. We are often thanked for opening up and offering a fast, fresh and healthy option, and we are so thankful for how our community has supported and received us.