It was a bit good fortune that we encountered Satoshi Akimoto during our field trip to ramen school. This guy is undertaking a very serious ramen project. A year ago, he was working as a mechanical engineer at Nissan, doing things like designing auto suspensions and chassis. Now, in an abrupt career redirection, he's a just a few months away from opening one of India's first authentic ramen restaurants. It's an interesting story, and one with some obvious parallels to ours.
When we arrived at Shoku no Dojo early on a Wednesday morning, most of the students were huddled around a table, hunched over pens and papers, working out the recipes they'd serve in the school's training restaurant a few days later. Akimoto was set apart, standing at the ramen bar and working on a laptop. This guy looked like he was working. The others were kind of shooting the shit. He was clearly the most intense student in class.
After a few minutes of walking around the Dojo shooting pictures of the scene, I parked myself at the bar where Akimoto was working and started talking about what he's doing in ramen school. I had time to chat while Hiroko was getting some thoughts on kitchen design from the other Akimoto, the guy who runs the Dojo.
Akimoto told me he'd lived in the U.S. a few years ago, in Detroit. He was there doing engineering work for Nissan. After a few years back in Japan, Nissan sent him to Chennai, India in 2012. He went alone, while his wife and two boys remained in Japan. It appears that there's a decent-sized Japanese expat community in Chennai, and Akimoto was on the board of the local Japanese society. This activity plus business connections he made in cycling group helped him get a sense of the economic opportunities there.
He realized there's a serious business opportunity in India. There are essentially no ramen restaurants in India; it's a completely untapped market. Akimoto wants to start the first real Japanese ramen shop in India, and then expand from there. He wants to be the guy who brings ramen to India.
So six months ago, he came home to Japan for one week, just to attend the first half of the ramen course at Shoku no Dojo (he had come back to finish the course in April when we met him). He went back to India, resigned from his job at Nissan, and now is in the midst of opening his first ever business. He's doing it in a foreign country, and one in which he's only lived for 2 or 3 years at this point. He calls it the Global Ramen Project.
Akimoto is opening his restaurant Aki-Bay Ramen this July, partnering with a Japanese friend. The name combines their respective names, anglicizing the spelling a bit. Over the past few months, he hired an Indian lawyer to get his corporate stuff up and running , and used his network from cycling to find a space in a local mall with two floors and a balcony. He's signed a lease, and now he's back in India overseeing design, architecture, and construction, lining up his suppliers and working out his recipes. Everything is happening at breakneck pace. Apparently he's going to be featured on a TV program, a segment of which will be filmed at Shoku no Dojo!
Aki-Bay is going to focus on chicken and vegetarian ramens, using no pork in the broths, to conform to Indian dietary sensibilities. Akimoto will probably bring managers from Japan to work at the business. He's going to have his noodles specially made in India, but he'll have to import his kansui (carbonate salts) from Japan, the ingredient that is the sine qua non of ramen noodles.
Akimoto told me that he's also going to make an effort to introduce India to more Japanese culture than just ramen, starting with matcha green tea. This goal really resonated with me and Hiroko, because introducing and translating Japanese culture is definitely something we intend to pursue through Shiba Ramen and this blog.
You can follow Satoshi Akimoto on Facebook here.