One amazing thing about Denver is that it’s not just a foodie city, but a foodie city filled with incredible stories of chefs, small business owners and people dedicated to their craft, whatever that may be. These stories tell of long journeys, cultural differences, and the trials and tribulations — and subsequent reward — of making dreams happen. For chef Hiro Takeda of Ninja Ramen Mobile, all the above are pivotal parts of his story.
Takeda’s U.S. journey began some time ago, about 2006, in Las Vegas. His first job was as a tour guide for a company that eventually opened a location in Denver. Thinking about the enchanting possibility of a new city, Takeda asked for a transfer. “I was excited to be [in Colorado] because I love nature more than neon lights,” said Takeda, via translation from his good friend Midori, who also works with him on the truck and helps with his bookkeeping. “I love the mountains, lakes, fishing and adventure. So I loved Colorado.”
Then one day (as it happens for many folks with a yet-to-be-realized dream), Takeda decided it was time to quit the tour company and launch his own food truck business. “I was always helping my mother cook since I was 7 years old. That’s where I learned how to cook,” says the ramen chef, who grew up in the town of Saijo in Ehime Prefecture, Japan. “My cooking is really my family’s flavor. When I was about 10, I was in charge of making dumplings in my home. I would choose all the ingredients but my mom was teaching me [how to use them].”
Ramen seemed the natural choice for Takeda’s food truck due to the cold winters here. “I wanted to bring real, good ramen to Denver. The broth in most places in the U.S. is not hot enough. It shouldn’t be too hot but has to be a good temperature,” he says. “And the texture of the noodle shouldn’t be too soft — it has to be the right texture. This is very important in Japan but you can’t find it in the U.S.”
So by 2018, the chef and aspiring food truck owner had the cooking skills and knack for flavor and texture of authentic Japanese cooking. But starting his own mobile food business was uncharted territory. “The first year was very hard because I started from scratch and didn’t know anything. But there were so many people in Denver who helped me build the truck,” he says. “[Things like] getting a business license. I was only living here for one year and didn’t know many people, but I tried to reach out and get help.”
Once Takeda and his surprising team of friends and supporters got rolling, the results started to show. “The end of the first year it started getting good,” he says. “Then the second year in March, COVID-19 hit. But I didn’t want to give up.” Takeda continued to park his mobile truck at (his now good friends) Novel Strand Brewing Company every Sunday. He says he tried other locations and would bring a lot of food but didn’t get the same turnout as he did at the Baker neighborhood spot. “At Novel Strand, people kept coming and showing up,” he says, feeling a touch of emotion. “Thinking about it — the tears.”
As we know, many food trucks didn’t survive the pandemic. In spite of this, Takeda was determined to succeed in his endeavor, taking every chance not to stay home but to “go out and prep and cook.” 2021 so far has proved to be a success, though Takeda isn’t planning on getting comfortable just yet. “I want to offer traditional Japanese food for catering a party or wedding or birthday,” he says. “I’m thinking of hand-rolled sushi [too], like our families do in Japan.” Takeda wants to create sushi kits that he would prepare and show customers how to properly roll. “You have all the rice and ingredients and I would show [you] how to do it.”
For right now, you can catch Ninja Ramen Mobile every Sunday at Novel Strand from 2 to 8 p.m., serving hot ramen with perfectly textured noodles as well as a variety of other authentic Japanese dishes, like curry rice, gyoza, Spam musubi, yakisoba and karaage. Many of his ingredients come from Asian markets here in Denver, though some he has shipped from Japan or California, so you know you’re getting the best available. Takeda also parks his truck at various locations throughout the week, with a calendar on his website and regular updates on his Instagram page.
From his website, Takeda writes, “I am extremely grateful to the people of Colorado for making my dream a reality, and I can’t wait to see you at the truck.”
For inquiries, contact Takeda at [email protected] or call 720-810-2189.