Forest Grove's Bamen Ramen celebrates one year in business
They say timing is everything.
In hindsight, their timing could've been better, but despite Forest Grove's Bamen Ramen having to navigate the usual perils of a new business, along with the unusual ones resulting from a pandemic, Suzi Jewett and her husband Jason are still afloat after what has been a very stormy first year of operating their food truck near the fire station.
"When we first opened, things were great, community support was great, but obviously then things started to deteriorate pretty quickly," Suzi Jewett said. "Lately, however, we've seen things pick up a bit, and that's exciting."
It's been almost a calendar year since the Bamen Ramen food truck parked itself on 19th Avenue near the corner of 19th Avenue and Ash Street, and almost eight months since the COVID-19 pandemic began to wreak havoc on retail and restaurant businesses throughout Washington County and far beyond.
Nothing about that time has been easy. But Jewett said she and her husband are happy to still be around, serving, getting to know and aiding the local community.
"From the beginning, our goal was to be able to keep our employees and continue to give back to the community and customers we've enjoyed getting to know," Jewett said. "We've been fortunate to be able to do that — we've just had to adapt a bit in order to do it."
Jewett said Bamen Ramen started with changing its packaging and to-go process to make things more user-friendly, created a curbside pick-up system in an effort to minimize customer contact fears, and partnered with online food distributors like DoorDash and Postmates in an effort to establish the community connection all new businesses desire. All of that has helped, but ultimately, all have come with both good and bad results, she admitted.
"Being a new restaurant in the middle of a pandemic is hard," Jewett said with a chuckle. "Furthering our online presence and partnering with companies like DoorDash have helped, but you're also giving them 30 percent. So it's good and bad. But our customers and social media friends have been great at spreading the word, and it has all really helped."
Despite the rocky road, the Jewetts have maintained their pledge to give back, and they have put their money where their mouths are.
In December 2019, Jason Jewett was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and as a result, he was forced to spend a significant time at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Beaverton. During his time there, he and Suzi Jewett developed an appreciation for the hospital and its employees, and they decided to help them by way of the food they produce and sell.
In April, the Jewetts — with the help of their kids — served 500 bowls of ramen to hospital staff at St. Vincent.
"A normal day is 50 to 70 bowls, and a great one might be 100," Suzi Jewett said. "So that was a lot of ramen my husband and kids and I had to prepare."
Even still, she said, they were happy to do it, giving back to hospital workers amid the first wave of COVID-19.
They've also given away free ramen every other Sunday in Forest Grove as part of their Bamen Serves contribution. Those meals are paid for by virtual fundraising drives on Facebook and GoFundMe.
The weekend of Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, Bamen Ramen will be celebrating its one-year anniversary at their site on 19th Avenue, offering special menu items to the public, and an exclusive, yet-to-be-determined special meal in a virus-safe environment for their loyal customers. Both are "thank-yous" from the Jewetts to the local community, as well as a celebration of what has been a tumultuous but rewarding first year in business.
"One of our big goals was to connect with the community, and we've done that," Suzi Jewett said. "We've made a lot of good friends, learned a lot about the food, and a lot about commerce, so we're enjoying it. It's been really special."
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