Anyone who thinks ramen noodles are only for poor college students should visit wagamama, a United Kingdom-based, full-serve casual restaurant modeled on the ramen shops popular in Japan. In addition to ramen, which are Chinese-style thread noodles served in soups or griddle-cooked, wagamama offers rice dishes, meat and vegetable dumplings, skewered chicken, deep-fried prawns and salads.
The company is expanding internationally and is close to opening its 100th restaurant worldwide. The first wagamama opened in London's Bloomsbury in 1992, and over the past 15 years the company has opened restaurants across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In the U.S., it has two locations at Faneuil Hall and Harvard Square in Boston and is entering the Washington D.C. market in early 2009. The company hopes to open 13 more restaurants by 2010 — a measured expansion, according to wagamama's vice president of development Ed McGraw. “This isn't the time to be blanketing markets,” he says.
The company is evaluating a number of markets including Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, Conn., metro New York City (not Manhattan) and Philadelphia. The firm is limiting its expansion to the Northeast along the Washington D.C to Boston corridor. “We need to get the program going in the Northeast before we even think of other markets,” McGraw says.
Similar to other casual restaurants like TGIFriday's and Chili's, wagamama has an average check of $16. McGraw estimates that an average wagamama unit generates revenues of roughly $3 million.
Its restaurants, which have slick interiors and long wooden tables, range from 4,000 square feet to 4,500 square feet. The two existing restaurants don't have bars but do offer wine and beer.