Oni Ramen, the year-plus-old Crockett Row at West 7th haven of pork belly, steamed buns and Carolina Reaper-ridden ramen, is about to get a makeover.
According to owner/chef Jesus Garcia, the restaurant, which was closed this week for renovations, will re-open Feb. 23 in a revamped set-up, nixing its servers in favor of self-serve kiosks.
It’s a move that will mimic Garcia’s already wildly successful Deep Ellum location, which opened in September.
“When we first opened [in Fort Worth], we wanted to do counter-style where guests would order with a cashier, then we'd run the food to the table,” Garcia said via e-mail this week. “With having to make adjustments daily to the food & drink recipe/menu ... I ended up going the route of servers, which I understood more than the cashier set-up at the time. That route, although easier at first, presented a lot of its own issues.”
Garcia encountered problems with finding skilled servers — and with vitriolic Yelpers who complained about the servers’ collective inadequacies.
“It was hard to retain the good servers we were lucky to hire, and more often than not were constantly hiring, training and dismissing mediocre servers that did not care about the food or service,” he said.
Because Oni Ramen's food is relatively inexpensive, Garcia wrote, good servers left to get jobs where the tips were bigger.
“Our guests tip well, but if I give these servers a choice between working at Bird Cafe, for example, [where they could] serve two people, sell them one appetizer, two entrees and two cocktails and make $15 in tips, or [working] just as hard here at Oni to take care of those same two and sell them the exact same spread, but make $6; any good server would take the Bird job."
Losing good servers led to other problems.
"This left us with servers that generally didn't care no matter how many meetings, re-trainings, etc. we had in order to motivate them to do better," Garcia said. "At one point I had 15 reviews posted on the wall about poor service. It still did little to motivate them to improve.”
To that end, Garcia sought to improve the service, and bring it on par with the stellar ramen.
Much like at Ten Ramen in Dallas and Tatsu-ya in Austin, patrons will now order via one of three iPad kiosks. Garcia says that “if you must have people interaction,” a bartender will be on hand to take your order. His initial goal will be to have at least 80 percent of customers ordering from the self-serve stations. Similarly, three water stations will be available, should spicy-ramen eaters prefer to keep it simple on the beverage end.
Another change is that Garcia is bringing back his poke. Inspired by a recent trip to Hawaii, the chef has tweaked his offerings, adding more types of fish and toppings. Four pre-made bowls will be on the menu, including the intriguing Oni ($18) — big-eye tuna and octopus on brown rice, dressed with togarashi Sriracha, Asian pear and avocado among other garnishes.
As for Garcia, his success with the ramen concept as a whole has merely whet his appetite: He is planning “to expand to new markets,” should the self-serve kiosks take off in Fort Worth.