EVERETT — Some day, Trang “May” Vuong hopes Botan Ramen n’ Bar will live up to its name in Vietnamese: mother’s flower.
Botan is the Japanese word for peony. In Vietnamese, the peony translates to the queen of flowers, or mother’s flower.
The success of the 22-year-old Marysville woman’s new ramen restaurant in downtown Everett could help finance her mother’s retirement — a grand flower for her mom.
“She doesn’t know that yet,” Vuong said. “She doesn’t understand English.”
Botan Ramen has quickly become a new hotspot and an entrepreneurial dream fulfilled for the young woman who came to the United States as a teen.
Vuong was born in China, raised in Vietnam and came to Washington when she was 16 to study psychology at Whatcom Community College. That led to her marriage to a sailor based at Naval Station Everett and her pursuit of a nursing degree, which she left to open the ramen restaurant.
While she was a student at Everett Community College, she noticed the diverse population of her peers. The school reported that 33 percent of its fall 2018 student body was students of color. That, coupled with the self-described foodie’s long drives into Seattle to satisfy her culinary cravings, gave her the push to open her business.
Her background helped her feel confident she could succeed.
“I came from a business family, I’ve been working in restaurants almost my whole life,” she said. “I know how it works: the admin stuff, the marketing, the customer service, the management, the staffing. And my chef has the skill of making good food, and I have the skill to run the place. It’s like a perfect combination.”
The menu was inspired by her trips to Japan, where she would enjoy the market booths for ramen, snacks and drinks. The latter is something she tends to avoid, but her rare flirting with cocktails there found purchase in her mixed drinks menu of unfiltered sake and chu-hi (akin to boozy seltzer but much stronger at between 25% and 45% alcohol in the base shochu) at Botan.
“When I went to Japan, chu-hi, they have little stands,” Vuong said. “I didn’t know they had alcohol in there. They taste like Italian soda. Before I knew it, I had a really good time.”
Since its soft opening July 8 (the grand opening is set for Nov. 1-3), she said the restaurant has seen a steady weekday lunch crowd and busy weekends. Originally the plan was to operate six days with Sundays off. Demand begged to differ.
“We got so very busy,” Vuong said. “Like, more than I ever thought.”
She had to hire four additional servers and has found herself there seven days a week lately.
During a recent Friday night visit at the tail end of the 3 to 6 p.m. happy hour, every table and booth was occupied. My friends Amber Ditto and Steven Graham, their son Maxwell and I enjoyed every item we ordered: Haru maki (fried vegetable spring rolls, $5.95), kani mama (fried crab and cream cheese sticks, $6.95), pork belly buns ($4.50 for one or $7.95 for two), sunomono salad (sweet and sour cucumber salad, $3.95), seaweed salad ($5.50) and squid salad ($6.50).
Even with all that, we had to order ramen. Amber and Maxwell both went for the spicy miso.
I opted for traditional tonkotsu (a bone broth base) with pork, soft boiled egg and bamboo shoots.
Four days later, we went back and had a similar order. It’s that good.
“Good service, yummy drinks, yummy pork bun and hearty broth,” Amber remarked.
Steven shied away from the ramen and opted for a rice bowl the first time. He went all-in on the pork buns during round two.
“As somebody who isn’t actually a fan of ramen, I appreciate the variety of very tasty appetizers and small plates they have,” he said.
The menu offers a build-your-own ramen. The options are plentiful and start with the base broth of shoyu (vegetarian soy sauce-based), miso and tonkotsu. Then pick a protein of chashu pork (braised, marinated belly), charred pork belly or seafood, a few toppings from green onion to kimchi, bean sprouts to bok choy. A build-your-own ramen bowl starts at $12.95 and can go up depending what additions you make. The house special ramen ($18.95) comes with tonkotsu, both pork cuts, a whole soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bok choy, sweet corn and bean sprouts.
Despite overeating both times, there was plenty of food to take home. If you’re packing home the ramen, make sure to ask for separate take-home containers, one for the broth and one for everything else, so the broth isn’t absorbed.
Vuong said we weren’t alone in perhaps loving the food too much. She does quality control every morning with quick taste tests of the broths and meats. During the first month, her husband ate there every day.
“He gained 15 pounds,” she said. “I gained 30 pounds trying to open this place up — a healthy amount where I know what’s up for my food.”
If you go
Botan Ramen n’ Bar, 2803 Colby Ave., Everett. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. 425-595-4940 or facebook.com/botanramen.