These days it feels like every restaurant that opens wants to do something different. It’s refreshing to meet one that actually is. Rasheeda Purdie, these days better known by her restaurant’s brand name Ramen by RA, is the one-women force behind one of the buzziest bowls of ramen in the City. In just a couple of years, her approach to crafting fusion flavors has gone from a COVID hobby, to pop up, to crowdfunded endeavor, to a hard to snag seat. It’s not just the food that’s setting her apart, but the innovative model that the restaurant operates under.

Meeting with Rasheeda, it’s easy to see why. It’s not just the flavors and the gorgeously designed, back-alley feel to the space that set Ramen by RA apart, but the infectiously good energy that she brings to the pint sized eatery. “I want to cook and be happy,” is something Rasheeda said early in our conversation, and you can really get a feel for the sentiment in the space. The warm, friendly service feels like a natural fit for this little nook of NoHo right off the Bowery, and it’s hard to imagine Rasheeda anywhere else than behind the counter with customers. In some ways, the term ‘chef’ doesn’t feel like it truly encompasses the multitude of roles that she effortlessly takes on. “I’m front of house, back of house, HR, and marketing all rolled up in one,” she jokes with a laugh.

Somehow, Rasheeda makes it look easy, and really it’s hard to imagine that she ever pursued a career outside the culinary world at all. After moving to New York to attend FIT, Rasheeda worked in luxury brands and fashion, including as a stylist at Henri Bendel. In 2015, she was ready for a change and dove straight into culinary school. The service, care, and customer relationship aspects of the job were a natural fit for her style of hosting.

Her first real job after culinary school was just a couple of short blocks down from her current restaurant at Duane Park. The owner of Duane Park, “Marisa, really took a chance on me.” She still keeps in touch with the Duane Park team, they come over and check in on me. “Marisa is a godsend, and she was the first to promote my crowdfunding campaign to make this happen.” Rasheeda began working there right out of culinary school, and quickly rose the ranks of the kitchen, working under legendary restaurateurs like Marcus Samuelsson and Melba Wilson.

Then, COVID happened. It was in those days locked down at home, suddenly away from the kitchen, that Rasheeda began to take a deep interest in the craft of ramen. Like many time-strapped New Yorkers, she’d always enjoyed ramen, but spent 2020 honing the craft of ramen and developing her NYC-inspired asa-ramen. Asa-ramen is a Japanese style of ramen, typically called breakfast ramen, and her NYC food is inspired by classic, breakfast fare. There’s flavors like egg everything drop, bacon egg and cheese, gravlax, and more that translate beautifully into a hot bowl of broth and noodles.

Ramen by RA was born as a pop up series at Ada Supper Club, where she started slinging bowls of ramen. With the lessons learned and cult status gained as a pop up, she was able to crowdfund the opening of a restaurant. A few months later, the Bowery outpost was born, with an innovative approach to things. Ramen by RA is known for its forward thinking pre-booking process that at once allows for a truly one-of-a-kind customer experience. It’s a reservation only experience, where diners pre-book their food in advance. When it’s time to eat, show up, and in moments your food will be served piping hot and ready to be slurped up.

The benefits are massive, not only for customers, but for Rasheeda, for the environment, and more. Pre-booking means food waste is cut to a minimum, which is not only good for the environment, but the financials of the restaurant. These days, most customers are aware of the issue of food waste, but what few outside of the restaurant industry realize is that high rates of food waste are so expensive it doesn’t just cut into profits, it can literally cost a kitchen jobs. Plus, in an industry known for long hours, tough working conditions, there’s a little more sustainability for the one-woman show.

It’s good for the customers too. In a restaurant scene that often feels like it’s dominated by the hype cycle, long lines that don’t last, gimmicks that lure people in for a few weeks then fall flat, and new concepts that last a few years at most, it’s a refreshing change of pace. “Traditionally, ramen is a cuisine that comes with a long line, so I could either go that route, or go the guaranteed route. It would be a totally different experience to be line driven, and you attract a totally different customer, and I’d be a totally different chef.” Customers are anxious about being in line for hours, and have a different expectation – it’s not if the experience is great, it’s all about if it’s worth the line.

What’s needed can be prepared in advance, and she can serve all five diners their food “within six minutes of everybody arriving.” Plus, the expedited service model means there’s more time to let the food shine, and more importantly, to spend time engaging with customers and getting to know the burgeoning bunch of regulars. While there’s definitely been a customer education element, Rasheeda is confident that this model, “is the future… I created this system around all the don’ts I learned in the restaurant industry, and it works.”

The back-alley, intimate, yet classic sort of feel to the space is “exactly what I envisioned… Customers always tell me that it feels like we’ve always been here,” she shares. With the sustainable model she’s developed, hopefully it will always be here. NoHo’s a neighborhood that’s long been defined by ground-breaking, women owned restaurants, and Ramen by RA is a welcome part of this NoHo tradition. “There’s just something about women-owned restaurants, a warmth and genuineness to the hosting,” that sets them apart. At this one person show, you definitely can feel the deep care for customers she brings.

While she might be innovating the restaurant industry and serving up incredible fusion flavors, it’s not necessarily the goal of Ramen by RA. Really, it’s all about the people and sense of community and camaraderie inherent to warm service over hot bowls of ramen. In a few years, she hopes to still be serving folks on the Bowery and ingrained in the NoHo community, and maybe having another staff person or two. “I want to get to know people, to see their kids grow up,” and to become a restaurant that bucks the hype cycle, the impersonal service, that has come to be synonymous with the City’s dining scene. “If I didn’t have this, I’d be working for somebody else’s dream,” Rasheeda said towards the end of the conversation. Luckily for NoHo, her dream is coming true on the Bowery everyday.

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