By Amaka Onwuama Uwagba
We’re excited that Otani Noodle will soon be opening a downtown shop near Public Square, and not just because they will be right across the street from our office (although that’s a big plus!). Otani is an authentic Japanese noodle house that offers a cultural experience along with healthy, delicious, Ramen-style meals.
Recently, we sat down with co-owner Joyce Luo and discussed her experience as an immigrant entrepreneur. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
When did you come to America, and why Cleveland? I moved to America from China in 1996. I moved to the Cleveland area in the 2004 because the cost of living in Cleveland is low and I just like Cleveland. There is no stress.
Who are the co-founders of Otani Noodles and where are they from?
We have an Otani in Mayfield Heights. The restaurant has been open since 1978. Mr. Honda first opened the business 40 years ago. He then retired and my partner, Janet Yee, also from China, took over the Otani Japanese Restaurant. With time, my partner joined me and we opened the Otani Noodle (in Uptown) in June 2016.
Why and how did you start your business?
I love to eat. I eat a lot. I go to places just to eat. Even though I came over here. I travel to Toronto and New York two to three times a year just to eat. I was living in California when I came to America and there were lots of Ramen shops on every corner, but there was nothing in Cleveland. When I came here, I tried the other foods and it wasn’t that good, so I decided to open this restaurant.
What are some of the challenges you faced as an immigrant entrepreneur?
I don’t feel like I have any challenges. I feel like America is a fair country for everyone. I feel free. When you work, you make money. The only challenge I had was the language barrier. English is our second language. But I went to school and I learned English. The challenge is when you are new here and it is a new place, not like your country. Everything is different. I have a business back home, too, and the rules are different than the business rules here in America.
What is your next step in your business?
My dream for my business is to open an Otani Noodle location on the West Side of Cleveland, but right now we are focused on the new location of Otani Noodle, which will be in downtown Cleveland (234 Euclid Avenue). We will be taking over the Noodlecat location. We are pushing our grand opening for the end of October or the beginning of November, but ultimately, we should be open by the end of the year.