Bringing people and cultures together with Yasu & Masa’s ramen: Tannya Cai (MBA ’21) reports.
It was a cold, rainy day. On October 27, in 90 minutes, over 50 bowls of ramen were served by Yasu & Masa’s, a new startup founded by Yasu Sasago (MBA ’20) and Masato Nakamura (MBA ’20). A company focused on bringing ramen to all Americans, this was Yasu & Masa’s first official popup event—the first time others were privy to a taste of their recipe.
It is just after 11 a.m. when I walk into Yume Wo Katare, where Yasu & Masa’s is hosting this event. The bell rings; Yasu greets me with a smile and introduces me to the rest of the team: Masato, Joel Newburn (GSAS ’20), Nicha Wongsuphasawat (MBA ’20), Chris LaColla (MBA ’20), and Shovan Shah (GSD ’20). The popup hasn’t begun, but the team is already bustling around the kitchen.
Chris sees me standing and wipes his hands, taking a momentary repose to brief me on what’s happening. Preparations had started several days before—after all, the broth took 10 hours to make, and the noodles were all handmade. As I watch Masato carefully, thinly slice their special “Tokyo tender pork,” a Tokyo-style braised pork, Chris tells me that the team painstakingly sources high-quality, local ingredients to remain connected to the community and improve the sustainability of their business.
The founders are hoping to bring ramen to audiences that have never had ramen before. Much like Benihana, Yasu and Masato aim to scale authenticity in Japanese culture while appealing to a broader American audience. Chris tells me the team is experimenting with various efficiencies in their operating models to build scale, and this popup event will be a first test of their operations.
Chris is called back into the kitchen. Time flies, and soon it’s time for the customers to come in. A line has formed outside, with customers eagerly awaiting their own bowls of ramen on this cold day.
The restaurant is immediately filled. I watch the team get to work and the customers chatter excitedly. Trying to get as out of the way as possible, I sit down by a group of waiting customers. We start talking about ramen, and the friends light up.
“It’s just so carb-y,” one says, “and so stimulating.” Another one adds, “The broth, the scent, the presentation, all of it.” Nathan Bowen (MBA ’20) re-emphasized the broth, saying, “I’m not a ramen connoisseur, but I just like that it tastes good. The broth especially.”
Chris and Shovan begin bringing out the ramen, and I leave the customers to dig in. They take their first bites, then another, and then another. At this point I’m starving, watching people slurp down the noodles, with the fresh aroma of pork and ramen wafting in the air.
As the customers cycle in and out, I see people laughing, chatting, and bonding over their food. Joel sees me and brings me a bowl of steaming hot ramen. The scent of the broth is invigorating, and my stomach can’t hold its excitement.
Sitting in a ramen store, around people happily chatting and slurping up noodles, I mull over the warmth that my favorite meals, including ramen, have brought me—both literally and figuratively, sharing meals with loved ones and good people. Next to me, an HBS grad of 1991 echoes my sentiments. “When I want ramen, I want something warm, especially on a rainy day.”
And that it was a rainy, cold day made it the perfect testing ground for this experience. Yasu and Masato are bringing a genuine representation of Japanese culture to those for whom this may be foreign. But fundamentally, their goal is to bring people and cultures together through food—to create warmth and shared community experiences through ramen.
At this moment, a woman turns around to her friends. “This is so good,” she exclaims happily, and I’m reminded of the ramen waiting in front of me. I rapidly polish off the bowl.
So, the question remains: On a rainy, cold day, after a bowl of Yasu & Masa’s ramen surrounded by fellow ramen eaters, do I feel a sense of warmth?
Yes, I do.
Tannya Cai (MBA ’21) is a Product Manager at the Harbus, working on the Digital Harbus editions and other marketing and business development efforts. She is passionate about startups, tech, and design and human behavior. In her spare time, she is a mediocre (but enthusiastic!) singer and dancer, attached at the hip to her DSLR, and usually found wandering forests or mountains with her favorite hiking boots.