It’s not your college ramen

By NICHOLAS DETTMANN - Daily News

Dec. 1, 2017

Alex Ritger of West Bend smiles as he enjoys dinner with Sonya Xiong of West Bend Tuesday night at Tochi Ramen in West Bend.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Gregg Des Rosier and the staff at Tochi Ramen, 705 Village Green Way, West Bend, want the public to get away from the stereotype of ramen noodles. You know, those packaged noodles you can find at the grocery store for only a couple dollars.

To assist in that effort, the folks at Tochi Ramen are doing it loud and proud, and it appears Washington County is getting the message.

Tochi Ramen was selected as one of the 10 recommended restaurants in the county by Daily News readers in a recent informal poll.

Tochi Ramen opened in November 2015 after about a year in Shorewood where it was known as Tochi. Des Rosier was the general manager and executive chef there.

“I think we had a good reputation coming from Milwaukee,” Des Rosier said. “I think a lot of Milwaukee people followed us here.”

At least one person did.

“I literally drive to West Bend if I want good ramen,” said Matthew Schladweiler of Milwaukee. “I’ve eaten at 20-plus ramen joints in the U.S. and this one easily is the best one by far. Better than Morimoto’s in Walt Disney World; better than Yokohama or Red Light Ramen here in Milwaukee. It’s simply the best.”

Des Rosier worked with Tochi’s owner Deb Kern for about 15 years in various roles and at various establishments, including Anaba Tea Room in Milwaukee. In Shorewood, Tochi, Des Rosier said, was an immediate hit.

“We were the first dedicated ramen joint in all of Milwaukee,” Des Rosier said. “Now there’s like five.”

One day, Kern talked to Des Rosier about ownership.

“I think initially it was to stay in Shorewood,” Des Rosier said. “But I knew the concept was working so well that if I was to take over ownership there, I was going to look for a second one anyway.”

Unfortunately, Des Rosier was forced to look elsewhere because no agreement could be reached regarding the lease.

So, Adam Williquette, local commercial realtor and West Bend alderman, showed Des Rosier this spot just off the Milwaukee River near the River Shores YMCA.

“I didn’t think there was a kitchen in it,” Des Rosier said, adding, “When I peeked in the doors, you could only see a little bit of the kitchen and it made me want to look at this.”

What he eventually saw was the perfect place.

“This is the four times the size kitchen I was working in,” Des Rosier said.

Excited to open his restaurant, something to call his own, he was also nervous.

“You want to do a good job,” Des Rosier said. “I wasn’t afraid of the concept. I wasn’t afraid that people in West Bend would be reluctant to try it.”

Where he was nervous was because he was opening the restaurant in his home town. He thought it was more pressure.

“You know a lot of people,” Des Rosier said. “You want to do well.”

Des Rosier has been around fresh food most of his life. Growing up, the family had a garden and often grew the foods they’d later use for meals.

The reception in Shorewood to Tochi has been similar in West Bend since Des Rosier unlocked the doors to Tochi Ramen.

“I think the word of mouth has been tremendous,” Des Rosier said.

There are eight kinds of ramen dishes on the menu at Tochi Ramen, including the signature dish — The Tochi Ramen, consisting of miso broth, pork belly, crispy pork, green onion and spicy miso deviled egg.

“The instant packets you get is completely different than what we do,” Des Rosier said. “Traditional Japanese ramen can take up to 18 hours to make the broth. It’s not packaged noodles. They’re fresh noodles.

“It’s a labor love to be honest. The first time people have real ramen probably feels the same way I did; I was blown away.”

That happened to Des Rosier, a chef for about 30 years, about six years ago. He traveled anywhere he could — stateside and abroad — researching ramen to get a better understanding of how to make it and how to make it into a savory dish.

“There are books written just about ramen,” Des Rosier said.

Des Rosier said there are four types of broths — shoyu, miso, shio and tonkotsu — with ramen. And, for a chef, that helps them tap into their creativity.

“I remember the depth of the flavor from it,” Des Rosier said. “I remember there was a lot of work that went into it. I remember feeling, ‘This is the ultimate comfort food.’” And it’s not just a comfort food Des Rosier and Tochi Ramen aims to deliver to its visitors, but also an outside-the-box atmosphere, bucking the trend of the traditional Japanese or Chinese restaurant.

“We have a turntable; we play vinyl,” Des Rosier said. “Music is a very, very important aspect of what we do here.”

He added, “We call ourselves a punk ramen joint and it’s not just because of the music we play. It’s our approach to thinking about ramen.”


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