Koko Ramen has opened in the Union Hall food hall at Seventh Street and Franklin Avenue, joining Captain Billy Whizzbang’s and Unshakeable Milkshakes in a venue slated to house more than a dozen food and drink spaces, with a grand opening planned early next year.
The Koko Ramen food truck stirred up a loyal fan base when parked beside the Dancing Bear Pub, 1117 Speight Ave., but like other mobile dining options decided to put down roots. Crews hired by developers Shane Turner and Todd Behringer continue to transform Koko Ramen’s chosen home at 720 Franklin Ave.
Koko co-owners Reid Guess and Gene Vinnykov also own Guess Family Barbecue, which has opened in the former Michna’s Bar-B-Que space at 2803 Franklin Ave.
Koko Ramen and Guess have taken divergent paths to popularity.
Koko Ramen offers what Vinnykov described as authentic Japanese ramen dishes, most featuring bone broth, noodles, pork belly and touches that vary with the entree and may include pickled mustard greens, scallion, sprouts, mushrooms, garlic pickles, fish cake and eggs flavored with soy sauce.
“Try our amazing appetizers or go old school with a rice bowl,” the restaurant’s website states.
Starters include fried Brussels sprouts, pulled-pork egg rolls, steamed buns or lemongrass beef skewers.
“We built our own stall inside the food hall and equipped it with appliances. It’s a very nice kitchen, which we can use to make all toppings in-house,” Vinnykov said. “We have the full menu offered with the food truck, and will add a few extras with time. It is evolving and being refined. Guess Family Barbecue provides the protein we feature in our dishes, but some ingredients we order directly from Japan in our pursuit of authentic Asian flavors.”
He said Koko Ramen is spreading the word about its relocation via Instagram, Facebook and flyers, and expects to attract regulars to its new address while working out kinks it hopes to address during its soft opening.
“We use all of our own recipes,” said Vinnykov, a Chicago native. “They have been tested and retested. There is not a science to ramen. You cook broth as best you can, using the best possible ingredients. You can cook it a thousand different ways, but we try to keep it simple. The same thing with our barbecue. We use salt and pepper and think we do a great job of that.”
Cade Mercer is the head chef at both locations. Originally from New Braunfels, he spent time at Lamberts, a well-known Austin restaurant.
13 vendors for Union
Jonathan Garza, a Turner-Behringer Real Estate agent, said he has commitments from 13 vendors, some continuing to prepare their spaces. Sam Castillo, co-owner of the La Fiesta restaurant, will operate two bars and a gourmet taco emporium in the food hall, making him the largest occupant.
“We have, over time, been quoting different numbers, but some have combined spaces, reducing the total,” Garza said. “We’re still looking for a few different concepts: pizza, health conscious, sandwich shop, salads and gluten-free. We have a couple of new vendors in the middle of their construction phase. The meat market we previously announced has decided not to come. Those taking stalls do not necessarily have to be restaurant concepts. We would welcome something retail related, if it pairs well with food halls.”
Union Hall was scheduled to open over the summer, and developers had said they would prefer it be fully occupied when the public was invited.
“It’s taken a little longer than we wanted, but it’s going to be great for the community when it gets rolling,” Garza said. “We’re working in a downtown that’s booming, which is great for everybody. Challenges always come up during a construction phase. We have people taking space who have been around long enough to understand what it takes to get up and going. With them, it is easy to walk through the process. For others, including a few in the food truck industry, it may take a little longer.”
He said a grand opening should come early next year.