Chef Mark Henry made the public announcement to open his first restaurant, Rooster’s House of Ramen, the same evening he won Food Network‘s Chopped, on December 29, 2016. Less than six months later, customers are sitting down in Colorado Springs’ first ramen shop to slurp up steaming bowls of Japanese soup in the budding North block of Tejon Street. This Thursday, May 3, Rooster’s celebrates their first anniversary from 5:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. with live music, Avery Brewing Company and a special menu to honor their first 365 days of loyal patronage.
RMFR catches up with Henry to discuss their “really good year” but also the risks and responsibilities of a first-time small-business owner in a fickle industry, the evolution of his culinary vision and how Rooster’s continues to be a passion project.
“I think we’ve matured,” says Henry. “Our interior design, menu, our staff has grown and so has our food. We’ve forged some awesome relationships in the community and we have a great following.”
The aesthetics of Rooster’s are an undeniable advancement, transitioning from a more stark space initially into a surfer-chic cafe, still with an eclectic selection of rotating art work but with more inviting dining furniture and custom accents.
“I think when we opened we were somewhat sterile and we have been steadily taking steps to improve that,” says Henry. “I think it’s all kind of coming together.”
Further embracing the casual beach-shack appeal Rooster’s integrates local acoustic performances for the party which continues on select Friday and Saturday nights.
“We’re going to try to get somebody in here every other week or two and gauge it’s success,” says Henry. “I think we have a hip spot where we can do things like that and have that be a draw.”
As the first ramen shop in the area, Henry acknowledges some apprehension and push-back to his creative interpretations of the popular noodle bowls but says he’s been able to find a mid-path that exceeds expectations without compromising his own culinary integrity.
“I think we have been able to dial in and discern what our customers are looking for and show a little restraint but still put our spin on things and do our food,” says Henry. “Our dishes have gotten simpler but more in-depth as far as flavor profiles.”
To celebrate their journey Rooster’s creates a “throwback Thursday” menu for the event featuring fan favorites that have come and gone with bulgogi meatballs, the beef brisket bowl, char sui and additional specials. Avery Brewing Co. from Boulder, whom Henry refers to as a “great partnership” holds a consistent tap presence and will be in attendance to discuss their beers and hand out swag.
“We’re all super in tune and passionate about what we’re doing,” says Henry in reference to his relationships with local breweries. “We have a passion to learn and put out good options.”
Henry says that the same inspiration translates into the importance of research and continuing education that he and his staff are nearly obsessive about and pursue through their reading. Recently that’s spurs more vegan highlights that are “out of the box” for the protein connoisseur by he advances and says that these atypical options are “using all the pieces.”
“One of the hardest things is maintaining the sense of fun and adventure but it’s coming easy for us and that breeds growth, exploration and conversation,” says Henry.”We’re letting the ingredients speak to us and that’s directing the food we’re producing.”
Henry circles back to his team and their strides both professionally and personally. He notes that there is no “metric to measure” the pride he feels leading his kitchen and watching his supportive regulars enjoy the dishes they’re creating.
“It’s really cool to have an environment where we have community members love the things that they get and to see the staff flourishing,” says Henry. “It’s like holy shit, we’re actually doing something. Monetarily we have been far more successful that I thought we would be but there are the other things that sometimes get lost.”
The changes at Rooster’s are perpetual as the menu is on a seasonal rotation, slated to update again on June 1, and Henry calls their development, “very intentional.”
“We want to do other things and just continue to fine tune,” says Henry. We have definitely been paying attention to people’s desires and know-it-all attitude about authentic food but we’re not just Japanese, we’re Asian-fusion. You’re never going to get downtown Tokyo ramen but we hear the people and we want to give them an authentic Rooster’s experience.”
Although ramen has a special significance in Henry’s heart he has no intentions of replicating the concept with another Rooster’s, but confirms a new project from his crew is in the forseeable future.
“It’s just finding the right concept within that space,” says Henry. “We’re doing a lot of experimentation and that’s why we did [Rooster’s], so we have somewhere to cook our food.”
Henry is emotional as he reflects on May 3, and says it’s not about him but instead more of a intangible offering of gratitude to his guests who walk through the door, again and again.
“It’s not an anniversary party, it’s more of a thank you back to the community,” says Henry. “We’re going to rock out, it’s going to be a good time.”
*Header image: custom art for Rooster’s House of Ramen by Rachel Dinda