/Kaedama: Japanese Flavor on the Border

Kaedama: Japanese Flavor on the Border

Local owners bring cozy corner building serving up flavorful and authentic noodles

A large steamy bowl of ramen noodles, soaking in broth, with finely cut scallions, vegetables, a soft-boiled egg, and a choice of meat. A cozy outdoor and indoor environment, trendy music, and friendly staff are what locals can get Kaedama.

Kaedama, a pastel yellow building, is a local restaurant situated on 204 Boston Ave. renowned for authentic Japanese noodles. It has an inviting environment for both the students at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and all locals alike.

In addition to the twinkling lights that are strung across the outside of the restaurant, it has a rainbow-colored fence that frames the patio area where customers are free to sit, eat and enjoy the ambiance.

In the border city, it isn’t difficult to spot an assortment of Mexican restaurants on almost every corner, in almost every shopping center. However, a sprinkle of diversity in flavors and aesthetics can always add to the personality of El Paso.

Vanessa Galvez, 20, a multimedia journalism major student at UTEP, who likes to try new local businesses, said one of the biggest things that stood out to her about Kaedama was the warm and hospitable environment.

“I’m very big on environments and I like to feel comfortable,” said Galvez. “It was very cute, and I had never previously tried actual ramen, so I was excited.”

Upon walking up the ramp to get to the front door, you’re greeted with an overwhelming aroma of the broth used for the ramen noodles to bathe in, which entices customers to try something new.

Within the four yellow walls sit around five tables, all of which are near one another, making for a compact area but keeping to the snug and personal experience customers anticipate.

“Even though the building is small, it gives off a very quaint and cozy vibe,” said Mike Rosales, a 20-year-old business management student at UTEP.

Kaedama, which means “an extra serving of noodles” in Japanese, opened in April of 2016. Local owners, Gabriel Valencia and Andrés Palacio, who met while working at another local restaurant, Sabertooth, sparked up the idea to convert a classic Volkswagen (VW) bus into a noodle restaurant on wheels.

“Andres had just gotten a VW bus because he had one before, but it exploded,” said Valencia. “He wanted another one, and he got it, so maybe two weeks after, we saw a concept for a VW bus that had been turned into a food bus.

The duo came to the realization that a food bus was something well within their abilities, and they worked together to try and make their vision a reality.

Palacio and Valencia had a family friend build the bus into an appropriate working space from which to sell food. The process took around six months to complete, but Valencia said the timing could have been shortened.

“It could have taken way less, but Andres and I had to keep working at Sabertooth to make ends meet while we got ready to launch,” said Valencia.

During the completion of the bus, the duo was still undecided on the items they wanted to incorporate on the menu or the overall brand for their business.

“We sat down and talked about it, and we had already been experimenting with ramen at the time just for the fun of it,” said Valencia. “There hadn’t really been a place to get authentic Japanese ramen noodles in El Paso.”

After a period of trial and error, the creation of Kaedama’s specialty, a hot bowl of ramen noodles soaked in the customer’s choice of broth, topped with a variety of vegetables, was brought to life, and the ramen noodle restaurant on wheels was launched.

At the start of their business, Palacio and Valencia experienced long lines of customers, waiting to taste some authentic ramen noodles with an El Pasoan twist. Some days they even ran out of product because the lines were long.

As the number of Kaedama lovers began to grow, the concept of a physical location grew more appealing and seemed to be more reasonable. Although a crowd favorite, the iconic black VW bus had simply been outgrown, and it was time to give the noodle lovers what they wanted:a noodle restaurant… not on wheels.

With Kaedama only being about two minutes from the UTEP campus, the restaurant became a hit among college students looking for a cute lunch spot or even an intimate date before the pandemic hit.

Galvez was not the only student who had taken comfort while visiting Kaedama. Rosales, a ramen noodle fan, said his first impression was that the quality, in both service and food, was superb. His admiration for the decor and the music drove him to conclude that the overall feel of the restaurant plays a big part in his liking of Kaedama.

“The quality of the food is unmatched. The restaurant itself provides an atmosphere that welcomes you and beckons you to come back for more,” said Rosales.

Through the workings of social media, Valencia and Palacio were able to build their customer base by taking advantage of the free advertising that platforms like Instagram and Facebook have to offer.

The sharing, liking, and following from people all over El Paso have helped create Kaedama’s fan base.

With the rise of the pandemic, business has slowed and the numbers that were produced before COVID-19 are not the same as the numbers now.

For a few months after the pandemic hit, Kaedama was relying on online orders to help push them through the troubling time. At the start of the pandemic, Valencia said their restaurant was strictly takeout, and for that reason, their waitstaff was being paid the same wage as their cooks.

“Tips just weren’t a thing at the time,” said Valencia.

However, thanks to the internet, customers were able to place orders through their website, which could be found linked on Kaedama’s Instagram and Facebook page.

Valencia says that although numbers have dropped, he wouldn’t say that Kaedama is struggling, and he attributes that to their loyal customers.

Kaedama continues to follow the CDC guidelines in order to keep both staff and customers safe and has reopened their indoor seating. However, with the limited space within the restaurant and COVID-19 guidelines that need to be met, the wait for a table could last up to an hour, but customers don’t seem to mind as the line to enter continues to grow.

“We rely on our loyal customers; they love us, and we love them. We appreciate them coming throughout all of this.” Said Valencia.

Valencia and Palacio hope to open a second location for Kaedama by the end of this year, or at the latest, the start of 2022.

By Ariel Castillo
Photos by Jasmine Reyes

En Breve

Kaedama, se encuentra cerca de la Universidad de Texas en El Paso (UTEP) y es famoso por sus auténticos fideos ramen japoneses y un ambiente que pinta un espacio acogedor con un patio colorido.

Los dueños de Kaedama, Gabriel Valencia y Andrés Palacio, abrieron este negocio en abril del 2016 cuando tuvieron la idea de convertir una furgoneta Volkswagen clásica en una combi de fideos sobre ruedas.

Valencia y Palacio eligieron los fideos ramen como platillo principal porque se dieron cuenta que no había muchas opciones para comer un plato de ramen auténtico en El Paso.

A medida que el número de clientes comenzó a aumentar, el dúo experimento largas filas de personas esperando para probar la especialidad de Kaedama: un plato de fideos y verduras cubiertos con una caldo tibio.

La idea de una ubicación física comenzó a volverse más atractiva y, aunque muchos desarrollaron el amor por el autobús negro mate, simplemente se les había quedado chico. Por lo que Valencia y Palacio optaron por un local, que ahora se encuentra en el 204 de la Avenida Boston.

Aunque el negocio se ha desacelerado con el aumento de COVID-19, Kaedama continúa atendiendo a aquellos con ansias de fideos mientras se mantiene al día con las pautas de salud de los CDC.

“Confiamos en nuestros clien-tes leales; ellos nos aman y nosotros los queremos. Agradecemos que hayan venido a lo largo de todo esto”, dijo Valencia.

Valencia y Palacio esperan abrir una segunda ubicación para Kaedama a finales de este año. De no ser posible, más tardar, a principios de 2022.

Por Ariel Castillo