Union Ramen receives final approval for Lower Garden District restaurant

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The former Jim Russell’s Rare Records building at 1831 Magazine is being renovated into a home for the new Union Ramen restaurant. (photo via City Planning Commission)

Union Ramen has received the final approval it needed in order to open inside the large Magazine Street building that formerly housed Jim Russell Rare Records.

In order to operate a restaurant in the building at 1837 Magazine Street, Union Ramen needed a conditional-use permit from the New Orleans City Council. The request received a favorable report from the city planning staff and a unanimous recommendation for approval from the City Planning Commission in August, and appeared before the City Council earlier this month.

“In this portion of Magazine Street, while there is a large number of restaurants, there is a variety of other uses, so there is not perhaps the over-concentration that is the source of concern in the overlay district,” said city planner Stephen Kroll during the Council’s Sept. 9 meeting.

Union Ramen owner Jeff Gapultos, also a founding partner of Eiffel Society, told the council that ramen is growing in popularity across the country, and he wants to help raise its profile in New Orleans.

“The ramen boom is real,” Gapultos said. “We want to introduce our interpretation of it. We’re not the first, but we want to add our touch to it.”

Chef Nate Nguyen shared his background with the council as well, working with Chef Susan Spicer at Bayona and as the chef at Kin. Union Ramen will blend Japanese ramen with flavors from around the world and fresh ingredients from this area, Nguyen said.

“We believe in quality food, and hopefully we can unite our concept with the culture of the great city of New Orleans,” Nguyen said.

Gapultos noted that he is raising his children in the Lower Garden District, and that he worked closely with the Lower Garden District Association on a good-neighborhood agreement. They also modified the restaurant’s design to accommodate some neighbors’ concerns.

Ryan Kropog, president of the Lower Garden District Association, confirmed that the agreement had been signed and praised the owners’ willingness to work with neighbors. Kropog also specifically commended two staff members in Councilman Jay H. Banks’ office, Jenna Burke and James Baker, for their “level-headedness and accessibility” in helping negotiating the agreement.

“We have some young business owners coming in as well as a talented chef, so we feel like this is a big victory for our neighborhood and we’re excited about it,” Kropog said.

Architect Donald Maginnis — whose office is next door to the project — had spoken against the project before the City Planning Commission in August, and said he still had concerns about its design. With the signing of the good-neighbor agreements, he said some of his concerns have been satisfied and that the project should move forward.

Banks specified that any go-cups used by the restaurant must have the Union Ramen logo, a once-controversial measure designed to deter littering. He, too, said Gapultos and his team had raised the standards for cooperation with residents.

“Jeff, if by chance your noodle business doesn’t work out, I’d love for you to go into consulting teaching other developers how to work with neighbors,” Banks joked.

“Jeff is a class act in everything he does,” Councilman Jason Williams agreed.

With that, the council voted unanimously in favor of the project.

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