We caught up with the CEO of Crafty Ramen, Khalil Khamis, to find out more about this dynamic business that’s taking Ontario by storm.
Crafty Ramen was founded by my two partners – Jared and Miki Ferrall – in 2017. They opened a restaurant in downtown Guelph, having just returned to Canada from Japan. They’d travelled all over Japan, tasting ramen and learning how it was made. They soon became incredibly passionate about the dish – they wanted to open a shop, and they chose Guelph to put down roots.
I met them about a year into their restaurant venture, and coming from a franchise background, I absolutely loved the food they were creating and how the restaurant was taking shape. After many meetings, we decided to partner and grow the brand together.
Ramen is all about innovation, and about locality and regionality. When you travel around Japan, it’s really interesting to see what each region brings to their style of ramen in terms of ingredients.
When opening the restaurant in Guelph, Jared and Miki wanted their ramen to reflect the offerings of Ontario. We use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible, and craft our housemade noodles from high-quality Ontario wheat.
We have two restaurant locations where clients can come and experience Crafty Ramen in a restaurant setting.
We also sell our frozen ramen kits and pantry items in about 50 small, locally owned grocery stores around Ontario.
Finally, we have an online subscription service for our fresh ramen kits as well as bowls, chopsticks, spoons, and other market items that cater to a great at-home ramen experience.
We always tell our team that no matter how beautiful our packaging is, or how good our marketing is, if the food is not amazing, people will not come back. We truly believe that our delicious food is what it’s all about.
It was the global pandemic that propelled us to launch the subscription service. We’d just opened our second restaurant – which now stood empty. Crafty Ramen is all about community, and we knew we needed to find a way to extend our community and deliver the Crafty experience to people at home if they couldn’t be in our restaurants.
When we launched the ramen kits, we wanted to give people the option of ordering a single kit or signing up to a subscription service which is marginally cheaper and gives them the chance to really explore our menu.
They’re extremely popular; we sell thousands on a weekly basis. They’ve evolved through listening to our customers’ feedback, too. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into understanding what our community loves about our products, and then expanding our reach to places we never thought we’d go when we launched.
At Crafty, we live by the Japanese term kaizen – constant improvement.
We try to source as locally as possible, sticking to the regionality that characterizes the spirit of ramen. For example, we use Ontario artisanal wheat for our noodles, and source ingredients from local butchers and producers.
There are some products that do need to be imported, and we tend to get those from Japan – these are things which are not readily available here, such as soy sauce. And, of course, our handmade traditional ramen bowls, spoons, and chopsticks.
Sustainability is an important factor for us as we aim to be a top contributor to the circular food economy. Our goal is to reuse as many products as possible. For example, we use ‘spent hens’ (hens who have fulfilled their egg-laying life and would normally go to landfill) to make our chicken broth, and use the remainder of that as the base of our bone broth. The same goes for produce like mushrooms, which we use to make our veggie broth, and then instead of discarding them, we use them in our pickled shiitakes.
When it comes to the packaging for our subscription boxes, our liners are made with 100% recycled water bottles, and our ice packs are earth-friendly so they can be cut open and poured down the sink.
We’re working alongside a company called Circular to try and figure out new ways customers can return items back to us, such as glass jars or ice packs. We’re constantly trying to evolve and see how we can improve our environmental impact as a business.
Our IT manager has done an amazing job getting us up and running online. The availability of technology and digital marketing is the reason we’re able to do what we do today.
The reach we have through our digital presence, and the ways we’ve been able to get creative with our brand online is why so many people have been drawn to Crafty… but again, it’s always the quality of the food that keeps them coming back.
We have an immense goal: to become the household name for ramen across North America… for now! From there, let’s see what the future holds.