Freshly prepared, gourmet ramen is coming to Midtown Crossing. Ugly Duck, a venture pairing Omaha restauranteur Charles Yin and former Boiler Room sous chef AJ Swanda, is set to open in mid-to-late September.
“We’re excited to bring this to midtown,” says Yin, partner and head of operations.
Forget any college days’ notions of what ramen means. Ugly Duck promises high-end varieties of the Japanese comfort food, carefully-crafted with noodles and broth made-from-scratch.
“The kind of Ramen AJ has executed – just making the broth takes anywhere from 12-to-20 hours,” Yin says. “AJ has proven himself to be very proficient at creating ramen.”
Swanda, also a partner, will serve as executive chef. Ugly Duck is the next evolution of a ramen pop-up he launched about a year-and-half ago.
“I would take this pop-up to established restaurants around the city, testing the waters for this ramen concept that I hoped to open someday. All told, we did 36 pop-ups. Once it took off and we were doing it every Sunday, I quit my full time job to pursue that.”
He continued, “Ugly Duck is the realization of a dream for me. Being able to work with Charlie, Midtown Crossing and SecretPenguin Branding Agency – it’s really exciting to have all of these great people behind this vision and dream I’ve had. Beyond that is the opportunity to build a restaurant I’ve always wanted to eat at in Omaha but haven’t found yet.”
The popularity of ramen – widely available on the coasts – is undeniable. Locally, Yin has witnessed the dish’s draw as an organizer, along with Javid Dabestani, of Omaha Ramen Fest. Year two of the event, held in Turner Park last October, drew approximately 6,500 people.
“With Ramen Fest, it really clicked with me that this was something that Omaha would accept,” Yin says. “Consistently, people have said this is something that we need.”
While the menu certainly celebrates ramen, it is not limited to it. Yin and Swanda say appealing to midtown’s lunch crowd with varied, affordable options is going to be a “huge focus.”
“We’ll also be doing some things to intrigue the lunch crowd with Asian sandwiches; fun, entrée-sized salads; and some awesome first courses – with a little bit of Japanese, Korean and Chinese influences,” says Swanda who has a fine dining background but has “always loved the street food.”
Promising a jovial, carefree atmosphere, the Ugly Duck concept will take the place of another Yin establishment, Pana 88, which closes July 20.
“Pana has been a good concept for us, but the one part of the dining formula that we’re not really hitting is the dinner crowd,” Yin says. “We’re going to turn Pana from a restaurant that services the neighborhood to a new concept that services the neighborhood but is also a destination for the surrounding areas and far west Omaha.”
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