A line waits outside Menya Rui at 4.45pm on a recent Friday evening, 15 minutes before the restaurant opens for its regular dinner service. Inside, owner Steven Pursley and his team have set up shop, preparing the dining room and kitchen and awaiting the onslaught of diners who are
“Ten minutes,” Pursley tells his team as the time reaches 4:50 p.m.
The last minutes pass and at 5 p.m. Menya Rui opens its doors. A worker opens the door and directs people to available seats. Still, the queue outside doesn’t go away and it doesn’t take long before the employee lets the next group know that the restaurant is at capacity.
The scene is typical at Menya Rui, the highly anticipated Japanese restaurant that opened April 21 in the former F&B’s Eatery in the city’s Lindenwood Park neighborhood. In some ways, the lines are intentional; Menya Rui’s small dining room consists of just two tables and two bars – 24 seats in total. According to Pursley, this small size is exactly what he was looking for when starting his restaurant.
“Most ramen shops in Japan are quite cozy like this,” Pursley says. “For the most part, they’re right in that kind of 20 [to] 30-seat range. And it’s just a certain feeling that you get when it’s a comfortable environment like that. So, I really wanted to bring that aesthetic and that vibe.
Pursley has first-hand experience with the “aesthetics and vibe” of ramen shops in Japan. His mother is from Okinawa, Japan, and he and his family often visited the country of his birth when he was young. These trips were fundamental to Purely, and in 2013, after graduating from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a degree in political science and unsure of his next steps, he began exploring the idea of opening a ramen shop. He spoke with an uncle in Japan about his plans and contacted the owner of his uncle’s favorite ramen shop to do some research.
“During the three years [I was in Japan], I worked in four different shops and learned everything from making soup to tare, which is like the basic seasoning; toppings, and even making noodles,” Pursley explains. “So here is, [from] From A to Z, [I] learned everything. »
When Pursley returned to the United States, he brought with him the knowledge and experience he had gained in Japan and began making pop-ups under the name Ramen x Rui. His goal with the pop-up was threefold: to reacquaint himself with the St. Louis restaurant scene, tinker with recipes, and save for a brick-and-mortar store; Over time, he began to serve more and more people, proving to him that a Japanese-style noodle shop could be successful in his hometown.
Menya Rui, a combination of Pursley’s Japanese name Rui and “menya,” which translates to “noodle shop in Japanese, has built on the success of his pop-ups. As he explains, the idea was to capture a more holistic notion of the types of noodle shops he worked at in Japan instead of focusing on the style more commonly known in St. Louis.
“I think calling myself Menya over a ramen shop sums up the other styles of noodles I offer and drives ramen culture in the United States,” Pursley says.
To that end, visitors can find ramen at Menya Rui; however, the restaurant also offers tsukemen and mazemen. According to Pursley, both are thicker noodles than ramen. He also offers a variety of broths based on his experiences working in Japan. As he explains, the first store he worked at used shoyu broth, which is a soup seasoned with soybeans, as opposed to tonkotsu, a pork bone broth used primarily with ramen. Pursley recommends people try the pork shoyu ramen when visiting Menya Rui.
“As for the first store I worked in, it had a similar style,” Pursley says. “That one was [where] I was like, ‘Oh man, this shit is so fiery.’ “
For those looking to try a different noodle, Pursley recommends tsukemen, which consist of thicker, cold-rinsed noodles with pork shoulder, menma, green onion and nori on top. Menya Rui also offers a variety of entrees, including homemade cucumbers and karaage, which is a Japanese style of fried chicken.
“When you’re competing in Tokyo, you have to use crazy ingredients and do something wild to stand out, but there aren’t a million ramen shops here,” Pursley says. “So I just needed to kind of have the basic commodities, which I was able to get.”
Menya Rui is currently open Thursday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Looking to the future, Pursley hopes to increase the number of staff at the restaurant to ensure it doesn’t sell out so quickly. In the meantime, he’s just glad his concept resonates with diners in St. Louis — even if waiting seems deceptively daunting.
“People coming in, the vast majority, are really happy; they’re thrilled,” Pursley said. “I had a line every day. So yeah, I’m grateful. It’s really great. But don’t I’m not afraid of the line. It goes fast.
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