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Ramen Station serves Japanese Cuisine into City Center

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It was the college staple food that could last in a dorm room cabinet for decades. Now, Jimmy Xiao is hoping to reinvent the idea of ramen cuisine with his new Woodbury restaurant, "Ramen Station."

Ramen Station, 1960 Donegal Drive, #15, opened its doors in City Center Marketplace in January. After frozen yogurt shop "Freeziac" vacated, the space was left empty for about a year before Xiao decided to move in, he said.

Besides choosing the location because of Woodbury's lack of ramen restaurants, Xiao, the owner, said he was drawn to the large Asian population in the city. About 70 percent of his customer base are Asian, he said.

Before starting up business in Woodbury, Xiao owned a Chinese restaurant in Hudson, Wisconsin, where he has lived for the past 13 years. He noted that the Asian population is much lower in Hudson, and said he prefers his new restaurant.

"A chinese restaurant is a lot of work," he said. "And Ramen is healthier. It's not so greasy."

Xiao learned to perfect the art of making ramen through training in Chicago. From slow-cooking his broth for seven hours to making sure he has gluten- and MSG-free options, Xiao has blended his knowledge together to create the eight different varieties of ramen on his restaurant's menu.

The Tonkotsu Ramen, which is made with a pork bone broth and contains braised pork, is the most popular ramen dish, Xiao said. He also offers a vegetable ramen as a meat-free option.

Other menu highlights include Soba, a "thin wheat noodle," and Udon, a "thick rice noodle," according to the menu. And for an appetizer, how about some Takoyaki (fried octopus ball)?

The Ramen Station's menu was, at first, made without pictures of the menu items.

"People were confused," Xiao said. "About a month after opening, we added all new design. Now people can say 'Oh, I like this picture. I'll take it.'"

Along with perfecting the menu, Xiao has hired a team of five other employees, one of which is his wife.

Don't expect delivery anytime soon, though. Xiao notes that ramen is best eaten fresh.

"For takeout, we put the broth and noodles separate, or the noodles would be too soft," he said. "When you get home, you mix them together."

Since opening, the restaurant has noticed a slight decline in customers during the warmer months, Xiao said, a trend that he credits to the frequency of barbecuing instead of eating out during the summer. Still, Xiao said he has seen many returning customers and is well aware of the competition he faces from the plethora of chain restaurants nearby.

"It is the only ramen store here," Xiao said. "I see a lot of Japanese sushi stores, and Chinese, like Leeann Chin, but I don't see the ramen shop in Woodbury."

And for all of the skeptics that remember (or are trying to forget) those late nights of college filled with packets of store-bought ramen, Xiao has a message.

"We use pork broth cooked for seven hours," he said. "You use water for a base. It's totally different."

To view menu and hours, or to order online, visit Ramen Station's website: www.ramenstationmn.com.

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