Ken Achenbach is a Canadian force of nature who’s been behind the long-running Whistler snowboard Camp of Champions, the Pro Standard Grill Mount for GoPro cameras, and a few other radical adventure-related entreprenurial efforts. Now he’s firing up something for gourmet dirtbags: Nothing less than the most ambitiously tasty and healthy instant ramen on the planet.
Having eaten a few, I can testify: MyRamen is amazing. The noodles plump up fat and juicy, soaking up and cupping the broth so each bite is a slurpfest of caloric delight. All three flavors—Miso, Salt, and Soy Sauce—are vegan and made without chemicals, additives, preservatives, GMOs, or MSG. When he first told me about the ramen, I was like, wait, what? ramen? And I’m still pretty much like that—why? why ramen?
Here’s what he had to say:
Dice K Maru, a pro photographer friend who was the Camp of Champions photographer for 25 years, and Hiroaki Sakata started MyRamen and then they dragged me in. Hiro has a Bib Gourmand rated ramen shop, Shichisai Ramen, in Tokyo.
Dice and I love ramen and realized that because we eat so much of it we better make our own ramen that doesn’t have chemicals so we can be around long enough to enjoy our kids. We wanted a vegan product to make it easier to live the way we wish we could live…even if it’s just for one meal.
Development took over a year—why so long?
Hiro made our favorite ramen so we got together with him to make an instant version of his “handmade with each order” noodles. He churned out variation and variation over the course of a year for us to test. What we were looking for was harder and took way longer to get to than we thought. A year to make a noodle?! People gave us a lot of WTF’s, but in the end, you can taste the difference the year makes and that’s all that matters.
It’s kind of like dropping a seggy or shot. If you didn’t put the maximum effort in to create something that was the best you could do, you’d get burned by your friends forever for putting out something that could have been better. Now, especially with the internet, sub-par product will haunt you forever. Dice and I, being photographers, we were used to waiting for the perfect conditions, light, etc., so waiting a year for perfect noodles felt perfectly normal. I think it was worth the time spent.
Back to the why—what were your goals for this ramen?
The tweak that was the trickiest to achieve was that we wanted the noodle to curve left to right, creating a concave face, as well as up and down so that when you picked up the noodle the resulting waviness and concavity created little cups or pockets that would pick up more broth, giving each bite or slurp more flavor. It resulted in a fatter noodle that tasted way better and is as close to homemade as we could get.
The second thing we wanted was to make the mouth texture more like handmade ramen at Hiro’s shop than the usual piece of string that the usual instant ramen has. We definitely succeeded on both counts. Everyone who tries our noodles calls MyRamen the best instant ramen ever. The broth was designed to not just be great on its own, but the perfect base of Japanese traditional flavors to add veggies and stuff to make a heartier ramen.
The cool part about taking a year to get the taste and feel where we wanted it, it gave us time, as we went through recipe after recipe, to get the ingredients just right. Originally, all we wanted was a vegan noodle with no MSG. As we got deeper into development/recipe tweaking with Hiro, the more we kept taking things out or changing the source and it kept tasting better. So…in the end we ended up with a noodle that is vegan, has no MSG, no chemicals, no preservatives, no alcohol (so it can be eaten by Muslims), no shellfish, no animal products, and is made with non-GMO, organic Japanese domestic wheat. It’s made in Japan and the taste and texture are epic.
Who were you thinking about, aside from yourselves, when you made MyRamen? Is it supposed to be a staple of skid diets around the mountain world?
Our target market is the ramen eater who wants a high-quality traditional Japanese ramen without having to go to a ramen shop to get it. We’re also aimed at parents that wish they could feed their kids ramen every day because it’s so quick and easy to make but until now, were scared off by all the chemicals and low-quality ingredients that are in most ramen products. And of course, the currently ramen-addicted youths and students that live on it.
It was a pretty cool feeling when we did samplings at Olive’s Organic Market in Whistler and we had moms losing their minds and buying nine- and twelve-packs at a time once they tried it and realized there was nothing bad in it and their kids were asking for another sample. Olive’s reported that they’d never had a such a direct response surge in sales related to a sampling, ever. We actually had three people eat the MyRamen sample as they were walking out to their cars, turn around and come back in and buy noodles. The store would cheer when that happened.
Down the road, we want to also make gluten-free versions and 25- to 30-gram sized servings specifically for kids, so parents can just fire one in the pot and have their kid stoked and fed in three minutes. Being chemical free, vegan, and organic, parents and kids can eat it every day without worrying about turning into the three-eyed fish from the Simpsons.
You can get a case of ramen at Costco for $9.49, or 20 cents per pack. MyRamen costs $3 to $4 each depending on quantity. What’s the story there?
The reason MyRamen is so expensive at the moment is because of a few issues. First, we make it really small batches with really high-quality ingredients so that it’s as fresh as possible. Being such a small company, that’s what ups the price the most. I think our entire production run was a smaller amount of ramen than the grocery store here sells in a month. Once we get our numbers up, our price will come down as the economies of scale kick in. We will always have the highest quality ingredients.
The second reason our product is more expensive is because of the serving size. Our servings are about 15 to 55 percent larger than competing brands. We are planning our next production run to have a smaller serving size as we found that people looked at the price and not the serving size. So we are looking to bringing our serving size down from 91 grams to somewhere around 70. That way we will still have large servings without the sticker shock.
The third thing that hurts us on price is shipping from Japan. We don’t make a full shipping container-sized production run yet, but when we ship from Japan to North America we still have to pay the same as a full container. Once our production gets bigger, we will be able to save a fortune on shipping. The last thing that bumps up the price is the distribution companies all needed their markup and promo costs, so that adds a lot more than we thought. Supermarkets are definitely pay to play. Once we have our servings a little smaller and our production a little bigger our prices should fall into line. On the bright side…you get a ramen shop-quality noodle at an almost instant noodle price. The coolest part about MyRamen is once people try it there is no going back to regular instant ramen. Once we get our price down… MyRamen addicts will be everywhere. BAHAHAHAHAH
For a limited time, MyRamen is buy one, get one free. Check it out here.