Flint chef celebrates Japanese culture with a pop-up restaurant Somas Ramen

FLINT, Michigan— Flint native and Mott Culinary Arts Institute graduate Jeffrance Ford turned his love for Japanese culture and animation into a local hotspot. Tapping into his love for Japanese culture and animation, the 24-year old created Somas Ramen in 2019, a ramen shop dedicated to serving delicious noodles and cultural appreciation to the Flint community.

 

“I want people to understand that Black people can do more with food than just fry stuff. I got comments like ‘why are you Black making ramen?’ [This is] my passion. I want folk who like anime to meet up, talk, and chill with music. No one does in this Flint. I wanna be a staple in the community.”

 

Somas Ramen specializes in making regular or spicy ramen bowls and what he calls “ramen kits” priced at $10 each for customers from across the state. Fresh produce is brought locally at the Flint Farmers' Market to support local and Michigan businesses. The premade kits can be cooked at home. You can order a ramen kit or find out about his many pop-ups via his Somas Ramen House Facebook page.

 

"I [have] a Japanese Gyuto [brand] knife. I make the pasta and leave it fresh for you to take it home. You feel like a chef,” he says with pride. "I don’t wanna cheat people. I feel like [$10] is a fair price and I make everything from scratch."

Jeffrance Ford, 24 is in talks with Ferris Wheel and the Good Foods Fund to get a food truck to serve downtown and greater Flint areas.

With ingredients like cilantro, beef short ribs, and turnips, Ford strives to maintain an authentic flair, staying true to Japanese culture, from the ingredients, cooking methods, cutlery, to even the name. The name Somas Ramen is a love letter to Japan inspired by his childhood admiration for Japanese anime, specifically Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli — the creator and studio behind anime classics like the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away," and the popular anime "Food Wars!" or as it’s referred to in Japan, "Shokugeki no Soma." The main character he says is Yukihira Soma.

 

“I respect [Yukihira Soma] because of what he stands for. He came from a small mom-and-pop shop. He uses his ingredients to the best of his ability. He was willing to learn even though he knew he was good. That’s how I am. For a long time, I was stubborn and had to humble myself.”

 

Originally from Pontiac, Ford moved to Flint and attended Northwestern Edison High School until he moved to Flushing where he graduated from Flushing High School in 2013. After graduation, he got a job and received a degree from the Mott Culinary Arts Institute in May of 2018, followed by months full of uncertainty.

 

“I was at a point in my life where I was working a job I didn’t like,” he explains pensively. “I took a pay cut to work at MaMang’s Vietnamese shop in the farmers market. That’s how I started learning to work with different spices. Then I lost my car, and things went downhill for the next two years. I was freaking out. How can I make this work? I liked cooking and anime. [I said] lemme make ramen. It happened on the spur of the moment.”

 

With no idea how to make ramen or how to use fresh pasta, Ford scoured the internet. He took to his textbooks from culinary school, used his natural talent for cooking, and his passion for Japanese culture and created in 2019 Somas Ramen. A partnership with the Local Grocer kicked off later in 2019 that allowed him to reach bigger audiences for his pop-ups.

 

But due to a recent surgery, Somas Ramen is on a short hiatus and is not taking orders until late February, but he doesn’t believe it will curb the demand of customers.

 

“My customers love me, Japanese culture, and are excited that something like this is in Flint. Most used to drive to Detroit for ramen and now they don’t. They love how light and healthy my food is. They also like the presentation of the bowls,” said Ford. “Above all else, they compliment me on my ability to do this all from scratch. That always blows their minds.”

 

With business booming since September 2019, he has been in talks with the Ferris Wheel and the Good Foods Fund, a public-private partnership loan fund created to assist food businesses that benefit underserved communities throughout Michigan, to secure funding for a food truck. A food truck will not only cater to downtown Flint but also those who appreciate Japanese culture and cuisine as much as he does. In the meantime, he’s grateful that business has grown and the energy from customers, friends, and family has stayed strong.

 

“People are psyched to come out [to the pop-ups] and when they finally do, they give me hugs and lots of encouragement to keep going,” he said.

 

To find out more about Jeffrance Ford and Somas Ramen Shop, you can follow via Facebook, Instagram, or Ford’s anime page We Love Japan.

 

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.

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