Portland Press Herald features Ishi Ishi

The Black Box’s newest addition, Ishi Ishi ramen bar, was featured in the Portland Press Herald’s, “The Wrap” on October 2. The full article is below and the original post is available here.

The first time Matthew De Fio ordered a bowl of ramen at Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin, Texas, he waited a little too long to dig in, and the chef picked up the bowl and threw it away.

“Don’t ever ask for a bowl of ramen if you’re not going to eat it right away,” the chef told him, explaining that the flavor changes as the bowl cools. Vegetables get soggy.

“It’s just not the way ramen is supposed to be eaten,” De Fio said. “Everything is supposed to be fresh, and it just kind of ruins the whole meal.”

So when De Fio and business partner Andrew Doolittle open their ramen shop at 93 Washington Ave. later this fall, the space will include a locker where customers must store their cell phones until they’re finished eating. With the phones locked up, diners won’t be tempted to wait until after they take a picture to enjoy their soup. Why not just ask people to put away their phones? De Fio acknowledges that’s an option, “but you know how people are,” he said, laughing.

De Fio and Doolittle plan to open a 9-seat ramen shop called Ishi Ishi (“determination” or “intention” in Japanese) in the Black Box space formerly occupied by The Cheese Shop of Portland, which has moved into a bigger space in the building next door. Black boxes are refurbished shipping containers where entrepreneurs often try out business concepts before expanding. De Fio and Doolittle are shooting for a late fall-early December opening.

Ishi Ishi will offer three types of ramen – chicken broth, tonkatsu pork and mazemen (brothless and vegetarian) – as well as a “pack your own” rice bowl option. De Fio plans to have gluten-free noodles and to-go ramen, where he will supply ingredients for customers to cook and assemble at home. (Again, he doesn’t want the ramen to sit too long before eating.) The restaurant will be BYOB.

De Fio, 30, a 2009 culinary school grad, worked at Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin for a couple of years. In Maine, he has worked at Trattoria Athena and Enoteca Athena in Brunswick and at Hugo’s, Scales, Tipo and both Duckfats in Portland. Doolittle, 32, is co-owner of Pot & Pan Kitchen in Portland, which makes CBD and THC edibles. (Another item destined for the Ishi Ishi menu? CBD ramen.)

If the shop does well, the partners may invest in more tiny ramen shops rather than open a larger brick-and-mortar restaurant, De Fio said. “There’s definitely a need for ramen” in Portland, he said. (Portland lost one, Ramen Suzukiya on Munjoy Hill, last year which closed after the owner died.)

Find the restaurant on Instagram @ishi_ishi_ramen

Jake EdwardsTenant Press