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Overland Park ramen restaurant aims to transport visitors to Japan

KC Craft Ramen
Posted at 6:16 PM, May 31, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — I remember the first time I passed KC Craft Ramen last summer and saw the line stretching out the door.

I thought nothing of it. It’s just a new spot. The lines will fade.

But, just as consistently as I’d run weekend errands, there the queue remained.

I made up my mind — I’d block out a weekend afternoon and would wait in line. I wasn’t the only one with that idea.

There we stood, in the summer heat and humidity about to eat a hot soup. What were we thinking?

Those were simpler times, before I tried the rich KC Black broth that still leaves me salivating.

Or before I had the chicken karaage (fried chicken) that transported me to my childhood.

It sent me back to Wednesday nights where my dad and I would arm wrestle over the last piece. He let me win.

There’s something entirely satisfying about comfort foods.

I’m all for mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, but growing up as a mixed-race Japanese American, I’ve never felt comfort food resembled anything Asian.

Seeing the response KC Craft Ramen consistently gets online and in-person, I knew I needed to spend a day telling the story of how it landed at a non-descript, superstore strip mall in Johnson County.

KC Craft Ramen
KC Craft Ramen

Instead, I came back for seconds. And thirds. That can happen around here.

Ken and Aki Ota are a dynamic pair. They are the married co-owners behind the broth.

Ken loves the craft of making much of the food in-house; Aki leads the hospitality in the front of the house.

They are so kind that I’d venture to say they leave "midwest nice" in its dust.

I met them on a Tuesday when KC Craft Ramen was closed.

During our interview, a handful of guests bounded up to the door, saw it was closed, and dejectedly walked back to their vehicles.

“I’ve never seen the restaurant this empty,” I joked to Ken.

He played along and laughed.

Then he added a dose of humility with a heaping amount of gratitude.

"We are so lucky,” Ken said. "We always get a line-up (of) people before we open. So that's our normal situation. Always grateful, yeah.”

Customers at KC Craft Ramen
Customers at KC Craft Ramen

Ken used to help other ramen shop owners get their businesses off the ground. Then he wanted to create a place of his own.

Ken used to live in Southern California. He knew there’d be too much competition on the West Coast.

He said he researched the country for a couple of months and chose this spot near Metcalf Avenue and W 119th Street.

“I want to be like the one who bring the new stuff to Kansas,” he said. “So this is my first step — ramen.”

Census numbers show Overland Park’s Asian population is growing.

It’s now nine percent of the population (that doesn’t include those who identify as mixed-race).

The appetite for this place spans beyond demographics.

What sets KC Craft Ramen apart is the buzz when the line finally snakes you inside.

The staff usually welcomes you with a greeting in Japanese. Hospitality is Aki Ota’s speciality.

The traditional greeting and goodbye cheers are a staple of her background working in a southern California yakitori grill restaurant.

Ken is proud of the environment they create.

"Our customer (is) coming for this part, enjoying the vibes, enjoying ... the Japanese kind of feeling,” he said.