Windsor·Pinto on Food

'You have to study, not do business!' UWindsor students ignore parents, open ramen house

Spoon Ramen is Windsor's newest ramen house. It is run by a group of friends who are full-time University of Windsor students from China.

Jonathan Pinto slurps into the story behind Spoon Ramen, the city's newest ramen shop

Liang Li, Yuhang He and Ming Hao (left to right) own Spoon Ramen in Windsor. Guanlin Zhu (right) is the chef. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

When I asked the three owners of Spoon Ramen what their parents said when they approached them about opening a ramen restaurant in Windsor, there was a pregnant pause, hearty laughter and a chorus of replies.

"You have to study, not do business!"

"If you want to make money, you have to graduate and then find a job."

"[It's] up to you. You control your life."

As we sit in the trendy, built-for-Instagram dining room, it's clear the trio followed the last piece of advice.

Ming Hao, Yuhang He and Liang Li are the young, twenty-something men behind Windsor's newest ramen shop.

They also happen to be full-time students at the University of Windsor, studying management, industrial engineering and economics, respectively.

Chef Guanlin Zhu holds up a bowl of black garlic oil tonkotsu ramen. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Frustrated by Windsor's lack of a dedicated ramen house, the international students from China decided to take matters into their own hands.

After eventually convincing their parents and extended family to invest in the fledging business, the trio recruited friend and culinary school graduate Guanlin Zhu, 25, to be their chef.

To learn to art of preparing the wildly popular Japanese noodle dish, Zhu spent a month in China with a friend who happened to have studied ramen making in Japan.

Considering that some believe ramen is actually Chinese in origin, the cosmopolitan nature of his training is fitting.

Spoon Ramen is located at the corner of Josephine Avenue and Wyandotte Street W. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Spoon Ramen opened its doors in March, in the space formerly occupied by Yan's Kitchen. 

  Each week, the restaurant goes through hundreds of pounds of pork bones to produce the restaurant's signature silky smooth broth. Five different varieties of ramen are on offer, with the signature dish being the tonkotsu ramen with black garlic oil.

Tap on the video to see how it's made.

Making black garlic oil tonkotsu ramen

5 years ago
Duration 1:57
Spoon Ramen chef Guanlin Zhu prepares a bowl of black garlic oil tonkotsu ramen in his restaurant's kitchen.

While Zhu is dedicated to the back of the house, the three student-owners take turns managing the rest of the operation, with time spent in the restaurant scheduled around classes.

Hao, 26 and oldest of the bunch, manages front of the house. He, 24, takes care of the finances. Li, 22, is in charge of marketing and communications, which means managing the restaurant's social media profiles.

For all the initial parental apprehension, the trio's gamble seems to be paying off. Eighty per cent of their customers are locals, rather than the students they thought would make up the bulk of their business.

A social media post advertising the restaurant's non-ramen offerings. (Spoon Ramen/Facebook)

Americans seem to be flocking to the restaurant, too. 

"Some of them live in Detroit," explained Li. "[But] one of the customers I kept communicating with ... came from New York."

The success has led the owners to give serious thought to sticking with and expanding the business long after they complete their studies at the University of Windsor.

A picture on the wall in Spoon Ramen's dining room. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"I want keep doing this restaurant," Hao said, mentioning he'd like to open a second location that specializes in dessert.

"I'm the same as Ming Hao," said Li. "If I [don't] find another thing to do, I'm going to keep doing this."

He, the industrial engineer, bristles at the idea of working for somebody else in a traditional job.

"Earning money is important," he said with a smile.

Spoon Ramen is located at 1790 Wyandotte St. W. in Windsor.

Jonathan Pinto is CBC Windsor's food reporter. Hear his latest tasty story every other Monday at 4:45 p.m. on CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive with Chris dela Torre, and at 6 p.m. on CBC Television's CBC News Windsor with Arms Bumanlag.


Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email