Husband-and-wife duo Scott Gault and Katie Shortland have struck liquid gold with their unwaveringly approach to ramen making and their keen eye for design.
Surveying his restaurant, the way an artist might survey a painting prior to its unveiling, Co-Director, CEO and Senior Exec Chef of Ra Ra Ramen, Scott Gault, prepares for another night of busy service. His newest premises is in Queensland’s thriving neighbourhood Burleigh Heads. This venue is part of an extensive line of Ra Ra restaurants and remains one of the hottest joints in town, some six months post-opening.
The ramen trend has taken hold in Australia in a meaningful way. As to why these bowls of steaming broth have taken root so firmly, we can’t say but enthused are fans and numerous are ramen restaurants on high streets today. Ahead of the curve, Gault and his partner Katie Shortland opened their first restaurant in Sydney’s Redfern three years ago. Scott says they initially hoped to do well enough to outlast the honeymoon period. The fact they now have five locations shows just how popular the Ra Ra approach has become.
“We wanted to hero the noodle-making room.
You can see all our noodles being made by hand behind glass.”
Unlike many restaurants that boast ramen on their menu, Gault has an almost militant appreciation for the tradition and craft of ramen making. His kitchens make everything from scratch with the broth taking some 17 hours to concoct. Yet, as much thought has been put to the interiors as the delicate dishes themselves. Each Ra Ra location takes on a different oeuvre, a high standard of design with an appreciation of negative space, high-quality materials and perfect ambient lighting.
“Ra Ra Redfern was a nod to the third wave coffee shops in Japan,” explains Gault, referencing the heavy use of plywoods and off the shelf materials. Its sister location in Randwick, just a few kilometres down the road, however, has a different feel. “We wanted to hero the noodle-making room. You can see all our noodles being made by hand behind glass.”
Having built a strong presence in Sydney, Gault and Shortland decided to take their brand home. Having both grown up in Brisbane, the pair were drawn to a particular location in Burleigh, taking the look and feel from one of their favourite cocktail bars. It’s dark and unctuous and the striking green neon lights echo the waves you can hear crashing a mere stone’s throw from the restaurant front door.
Gault says that the Ra Ra experience is no one thing, it’s a combination of their approach to food, to the drinks, space and the ambience. “First and foremost it is the quality of the ramen itself,” he explains, “But… it also comes down to the service. Our drinks list we heavily curate. We only sell natural wines. It’s a similar ethos to our ramen, you know, handcrafted.”
Scaling their business so fast means the duo have had to supercharge their own education as business owners and Gault says that their speedy growth was noticed by more than just their customers. “We actually had developers approaching us within the first three months and we were like, hang on…”
“We came up with ways to deliver broth and the ramen in pouches to customers.”
Despite the interest from keen-eyed investors, like any business, Gault had to overcome a plethora of problems to get the doors open and to keep them open – many of them pertain to their unique fit-outs rather than their food. “We’ve learned a lot on the way, but we’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really talented architects and builders to help resolve those issues,” he says.
“Our first Redfern store, we actually signed a contract on a different location. At the last minute, we decided to pull out because the location we’re in now seemed far better. Looking back now, it was a wise choice.” Restaurateurs make business defining decisions each day and recognise that successes will undoubtedly come coupled with setbacks. Covid offered perhaps the biggest hurdle for food businesses in recent years. For Gault and his team, it shook the foundation of his business as it did many others.
“We suffered during Covid. We didn’t do takeaway ramen. It’s not really a thing, particularly in Japan. Me being traditional I fought against it. We had to pivot. We came up with ways to deliver broth and ramen in pouches to customers. That helped us scale up deliveries and therefore not put as much pressure on the kitchen itself.” Gault refers affectionately to himself as a “Jack of all trades” a man who wears the hats of CEO, CMO and CIO simultaneously. But Gault says he benefits from his partnership with his wife, a strong and effective rudder to help steer the good ship Ra Ra. “She’s learned things from me from my background in hospitality,” he says, going on to say he has learnt much regarding staff training, customer relationships and building a customer base from her.
For the team, 2022 will be a time to “consolidate” and regroup and offer the necessary time they need to retrain staff and iron out the kinks consistent with scaling at pace. Yet below the trials and tribulations, Gault is adamant that it is his passion that proves the answer to challenges over innate knowledge or business acumen (although it helps). “You’ve got to really love what you’re doing… you can’t clock off. It’s not nine to five. You’ve always got to have your finger on the pulse. It’s something that you’ve really got to enjoy. So, my passion for ramen helps me get up every day and continue doing what I do.”