We made it, I'm relieved to report. Shiba Ramen Oakland is up and running. Construction has been done for over a month, and we're fully open, more or less. Six days a week, at this point, until 8:30. Development is about to explode in Downtown Oakland, but the biggest projects are either just breaking ground or still at the Planning Commission. When more people move down there, we'll stay open later. Right now it doesn't really make sense. There just aren't that many people down there after work.
Construction was taxing. We're glad it's over. These things always become much bigger than you expect them to be. They take longer, and they cost a lot more. There is copious angst. Your sense of time gets distorted. But once it's over, it's over, and there you are, a bit worse for the wear and a lot poorer. Now you've got to switch gears and start selling things. You've got to get your money back. But, hey, the space looks great and I love hanging out there. With Chef Danny Keiser on the job, the menu is growing, and with me and Hiroko on the job, the alcohol situation is quite promising.
Design Concept to Final Product
We got deeply involved in every aspect of the design on this project. The stated objective was to move the design themes we'd started in the Emeryville kiosk toward a logical conclusion. The kiosk format was so limiting, and this was an opportunity to refine and extend the concept. The whole project was a collaboration between us and our design/build contractor LMNOP, with consulting input from our design partner Misa Grannis. Hiroko and I selected all the fixtures, finishes, and furniture, and with Misa's input, set the overall design parameters for the project. LMNOP pulled together the structural design and technical drawings, and then served as the general contractor.
The signature feature of the space is an undulating basswood soffit, suspended by aircraft cables from a scaffolding. The soffit begins in the back of the restaurant, extends over the bar and POS, and then projects upward in multiple segments over the dining room. The front 1/3 of the dining room is open to the full height of the ceiling, with a 3-foot-diameter ball suspended overhead between the soffit and the front wall. The top of ball is visible from across the street through the clerestory windows--a striking scene at night--and you can still see the bottom of the ball throughout the restaurant.
A design theme that resonates throughout the space is the use of hexagonal geometry. Hexagonal forms appear behind the bar, in the asanoha tile mosaic, in the bathroom parallelogram-based tile mosaic, in the bar stools, in the shadows cast by the central pendant lamp, and in the front window treatments.
We looked at a staggering number of pendant lights on the internet. If you've ever looked for lights on the internet, you know there is an ocean of choices, and maybe you concluded, like we did, that most of them fall on a continuum somewhere between abhorrent and meh. The nice ones stand out, but you've got to work to find them. We picked pendants for three different applications in the space, and probably spent more time on those than any other element, if only wading through all the chaff on the internet.
In the front of the space, we installed a 3-foot-diameter "Coral" sphere from David Trubridge in New Zealand. It's made of 60 identical pieces of painted bamboo, each connected at 5 points, and it throws geometric shadows all over the adjacent walls. Along the length of the dining room we installed 12 "Annular" pendants--six per side--from Dutch designer Woud, bought from some French distributor. Splendid customer service, I have to say. Thanks Fabrice! Finally, over the bar counter, we used four "Chouchin" pendants from Foscarini. These Italian lights, inspired by Japanese chouchin paper lamps, are the same ones we used in the original Shiba Ramen, but a different color and larger format.
We chose three kinds of tile (floor, back bar wall, and bathroom walls), designed the bathroom mosaic, and assembled the back bar mosaic (wonderfully designed by Misa) at our house before transporting it in boxes to the site. The back bar tiles are Japanese imports in the asanoha pattern. They're the very same tiles we used in the Emeryville location, but we used five colors this time and the mosaic is about twice the size. The asanoha pattern also features in the window treatments in front of the restaurant. The bathroom mosaic is comprised of Spanish tiles manufactured by Natucer -- parallelograms arrayed in the forms of hexagons and six-pointed stars. We designed it to be rotationally symmetric--meaning if you rotate the image (in this case by 180 degrees: so-called "C2 symmetry"), the resulting image will be identical to the one you started with. Well, there's one point of asymmetry. Go visit Shiba Ramen and see if you can figure out what it is. There's a real organic chemistry influence in this mosaic.
Wood is featured throughout the space, in the banquette seating, the butcher-block tables, the drink rails, and the slatted ash die walls under the bar. And, of course, in that gorgeous soffit that dominates the scene. The bar counters are gray quartz -- silestone, specifically. For the furniture, we went with red geometric "Hot Mesh" bar stools from BluDot at the various counters and the community table, balanced by some relatively nondescript modern gray chairs at the low tables. We featured our Shiba red color in a few accents throughout the space -- front and back accent walls, the backlit-at-night storefront sign, and a giant Shiba Ramen logo in the back hallway.
There were countless other issues that came up along the way, not the least of which were redesigning the kitchen and dry storage and settling on an equipment package. The stereo system had to be put together and purchased. For that, I outsourced component selection to my audiophile friend. I sent him the dimensions of the space, and told him he had $2000 to work with, and he came up with a nice system (KEF Q-series speakers and Nuprime amplifier) that works well for the space.
Finally, let's not forget the rounds of multi-party hand-wringing about the questionable code compliance of the building trash area's drainage system, almost leading to a serious issue with the landlord who (naturally) tried to disclaim responsibility, until the health department relented and made us buy a $500 trash can instead of doing a $40,000 sanitation upgrade to the building's exterior (i.e., not in our rented space). Deep breaths.
Wrapping Up and Next Steps
And so, reader, we are open. Please come eat at Shiba Ramen Oakland. Buy some beer, but don't let it stop you from buying sake, too. Double-fisting is nothing to be ashamed of. To the contrary, it is something we practice ourselves, and something we encourage for you. To be clear, however, we are not promoting sake bombs. Goodness, no, that would be gauche. And make sure to order some of Chef Danny's house-made pickles, which arrived on the menu last week. They are outstanding, especially with sake.
With Oakland complete, Ramen Chemistry needs to move on to new topics. The construction barricade for The Periodic Table went up a few days ago, and excavation should start early this week. In that spirit, we need to dive into sake here in a serious way. Coming soon, I'll take readers on a tour of the Kenbishi sake brewery in Japan, where we spent an amazing morning with the owners last November. And, of course, we need to learn the ABCs of sake. Lots to talk about. Exciting.
p.s. A week after we opened, the next-door Foot Locker shut down. We're not sad. The space is for lease, and rumor has it the landlord is looking for a cocktail bar. Fingers crossed. That would be a nice synergy.