The Pop Up
As I approach the cafe, I can see a small crowd waiting. I’m greeted warmly at the door by Sawa who checks the list for my name and then seats me at a large circular communal table after double checking my order.
Lucky Bepo sells tickets to their ramen pop ups on their website. Your ticket reserves your seat and includes a feature bowl of ramen. The offerings change from week to week as Jaden plays with flavours and styles, and so repeat visits will give customers a chance to try a wide range of different ramen noodle dishes.
Lucky Bepo is a well-oiled two-person machine made up of Jaden and his girlfriend Sawa. At this point, after cooking in so many different locations, Jaden can set up in almost any kitchen and serve tasty and authentic bowls of ramen. The kitchen at Wicked Cafe may be small, the ramen being served is packed with big flavours.
Tonight, Yokohama Iekei ramen is on the menu with options to add an ajitama (soy marinated egg), as well as spicy negi (scallion) or unseasoned negi.
Lucky Bepo pop ups on Friday evenings with three seatings: 6:30pm, 7:30pm, and 8:30 pm. During tonight’s pop up at Wicked, the cafe is also still open, so walk-up customers who’ve missed their chance at pop up tickets can still grab a coffee, and Lucky Bepo patrons can likewise grab a coffee, tea, or pastry for dessert.
The small room is buzzing with anticipation. Nearly every seat is occupied. The bowls of noodles, as well as the chashu and ume shiso chashu onigri sides, are served.
The smell of the broth is fantastic: meaty and mouth watering. I know from Lucky Bepo’s Instagram stories that the tonkotsu broth simmered away for over twenty hours.
“Tonkotsu” means pork in Japanese, and, when slowly simmered, pork bones create a rich, fatty, milky white broth. It is the aromatic chicken oil that makes this dish so nostalgic for me because, while I didn’t grow up eating ramen, I did grow up eating chicken noodle soup, and there is a broad, cross-cultural appreciation for the nourishing and savoury power of chicken fat in broth. The shoyu (soy sauce) adds a light saltiness. All together the flavours layer and build, enriching one another.
Around me, I can hear slurping and quiet murmurs of satisfaction.
The noodles are chewy and thick, more broad than round, and the longer they sit in the rich broth, the more flavour they absorb. The shoulder chashu (braised pork) is succulent, tender and slightly charred. Toppings include menma (bamboo shoots), spicy negi, and red spinach.
Practice Makes Perfect
Jaden learned the ramen basics at Shiki Menya in Calgary. Living in Japan offered Jaden a chance to taste test the wide range of ramen styles, and his own research and study of ramen history and trends is ongoing. He loves having the freedom to change up the menu every week. At Lucky Bepo, Vancouverites can sample ramen styles that otherwise can’t be found here.
Jaden and Sawa met in Japan, and she returned with him to Vancouver in 2019. They initially had not planned to stay in Vancouver long-term but then the pandemic happened.
In a classic pandemic pivot, they launched a new business and named it after their dog Bepo. Jaden and Sawa successfully ran two ramen pop ups before restaurants were closed. Then, they had to find an alternative. I actually first tasted Lucky Bepo ramen in the form of a make-at-home kit. Jaden sold these heat-and-eat ramen kits until pop ups became possible again.
What the Future Holds
Now Lucky Bepo has grown to the point of sustaining three pop ups a month at different locations around Vancouver. Give their Instagram a follow for updates and previews. Lucky Bepo will post mouthwatering pictures of each week’s special before ticket sales open. Tickets are for sale on their website.
After navigating the rough waters of a covid era restaurant industry, Lucky Bepo has reached smooth sailing but the question of where this ramen wave will take them still remains. In the meantime, seize the opportunity to taste Lucky Bepo’s ramen now. If you see a style of ramen you’ve never tried before, get some friends together for a pop up because it might be your only chance!