Sato, Sato Ramen,
and Sato Brewpub
by LIZZ SCHUMER
JOSHUA AND SATOMI SMITH FIRST OPENED SATO on Grand Island in 2011, moving
to the Elmwood Village in 2013. Sato Ramen in University Heights opened in 2015, and Sato
Brewpub is coming to the downtown area in the fall.
All three locations serve some iteration of ramen, including
Satomi Smith’s family recipe, “Sato ramen,” based on a dish
served in her family’s restaurant, Ichi-Ryu in Japan. Smith has
studied with master soba noodle chef Shuichi Kotani to develop
a house ramen and buckwheat noodle program, experimenting
with both Japanese and local ingredients. The “ramen lab” features both traditional and unusual dishes, offering some variation of the Japanese comfort food for every palate.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO OPEN A JAPANESE RESTAURANT IN
JOSHUA SMITH: I grew up in the Parkside area and met [my
wife and SATO executive chef] Satomi at Buff State. We lived
in Japan for thirteen years, and when we moved back, the only
image of Japanese cuisine in Buffalo was sushi. We wanted to
try to bring something different—and [we] wanted to be able
to find what we wanted to eat!
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT RAMEN?
JS: Ramen is a proven concept in Japan. It’s Japanese soul
food, comfort food, something that can universally relate to
Satomi’s hometown and to Buffalo, with its similar weather.
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE BEING THE FIRST REAL JAPANESE CUISINE IN
THE AREA, AND SOON, THE FIRST JAPANESE BREWPUB?
JS: We never want to rely on being the first to do anything.
We try to stay in the competition and bring the best quality food
that we can. That’s why we bring over certain ingredients from
Japan and why we use heritage birds from Erba Verde farms
that are 100 percent organic and free-range. It comes across in
the meat. It’s difficult, because we have a love for local food,
but a lot of real Japanese ingredients can’t be sourced locally.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU’VE
FACED WITH YOUR CUISINE?
JS: Ramen is experiential, so there’s
no way to recreate that first bowl. There
are also a thousand kinds of ramen. How
people eat here is different from how
people eat in Japan. It’s not that we’re
not eating ramen “correctly”; it’s that
the culture is different. In Japan, you eat
ramen quickly, in under two minutes.
Here, you get the food, you talk, and the
ramen is dying as you sit.
SS: We had to create a noodle that
didn’t absorb too much broth too
quickly so it gets mushy, and we’re still
adjusting. We’ve changed the flavor so
many times, learning from customers’
comments, from our own experiments.
For the chicken version, we tried a
clear-style broth, but that was too borderline chicken noodle, a lot of people
equate it with being sick. There’s a lot
of hype around ramen right now, and
the challenge is trying to get people to
separate ours from their concept of it.
People have to try it and have to get
over the fact that it’s not instant noodle
like in college.
Novelist Lizz Schumer teaches journalism