The ramen movement is alive in Macon, Georgia at Kinjo Kitchen & Cocktails
Words by Louisa Martin
Photos by TBD
Chelsea Hughes knows a thing or two about restaurants. Working in the industry since she was seventeen and throughout college, Chelsea was no amateur when it came time to open her own restaurant in March of last year.
But before there was Kinjo Kitchen & Cocktails, there was ramen. While visiting her sister in Manhattan, Chelsea was struck by the trend’s popularity in the city. She didn’t hold the misconception that most do about the dish - a fifty cent dorm room essential. When asked what she likes about ramen, Chelsea notes the transparency, in every sense of the word. “Healthy, comforting, wholesome, simple, pure, warm, and you can see every ingredient you are about to eat.” Her ramen allegiance was born and her country wide quest began.
From Atlanta to New York to Portland, Chelsea spent time learning about the flavors and process. She described an “insatiable desire” to create an experience beyond fine dining. But her years in the kitchen prompted her to pick up more than a “creative burden and a need to express it.” She also gained up a fascination with craft cocktails. The assumed luxury behind a cocktail and the assumed austerity behind ramen provided the perfect paradox for an interesting dining experience. But the next challenge presented itself: would Macon, Georgia be receptive to ramen?
Macon is a city rooted in tradition but willing to experiment. A friend of Chelsea’s had a pop up dining experience with a menu of ramen and steamed buns, another Asian comfort food. She describes the line of waiting locals circling around the block. With numerous revitalization efforts happening in the city, people are wanting more from the downtown scene. Plus, no restaurant had ventured into ramen territory. The gaping market in Macon paired with the city’s curiosity paired as an invitation to bring her restaurant into town.
After a year of construction, Kinjo Kitchen & Cocktails was set to open on March 24th 2020.When asked about the ambiance of the restaurant Chelsea’s first response was simple, “you don’t feel like you are in Macon anymore.” The minimalist decor resembles Atlanta or New York city. There are hanging Edison bulbs and hard wood details and sharp lines and a playlist called “New Disco” playing. The energetic and eclectic space provides the fitting backdrop for a dynamic lineup of dishes.
The menu changes quarterly and is highly dependent on local farmers, but the consistency remains in the broth used in her ramen, Tonkotsu, “a life giving bowl of spices that’s so damn good.” Chelsea cites her favorite entree as the hoisin duck breast or shrimp curry. Her weakness is a “simple thing done really well.” When asked about her favorite cocktail on the menu, Chelsea recommends the Sazerac with continued endorsement “anything with whiskey, I could talk about cocktails forever.”
The positive response from customers is evident in the restaurant's survival despite the late March opening date. The pandemic has posed “new hurdles that many restaurants did not have to deal with,” to put it lightly. When talking about the spirit of the city, Chelsea references the music history for explanation. There is a lot of growth for those who begin in Macon, and the credit is to the “steadfast” locals who possess a niche passion for their local businesses. Chelsea says that it is exciting to be in a city constantly “curious for growth.”