The chef's behind Ki Ramen: Roger Li (left), Domenic Branduzzi (right).

Two pioneers of the vibrant Lawrenceville restaurant scene, Chef Domenic Branduzzi and Chef Roger Li, are launching  the first pop-up event for their upcoming restaurant, Ki Ramen. Called Ramen at the Market, the pop-up will take place on the third floor above the Market St. Grocery on Monday, October 24, from 5 to 10 p.m. for one night only.

Diners will get a chance to taste both pork and vegetarian ramen broths along with Ki Ramen’s unique twist, homemade noodles. This will be the first in a series of events leading up to the opening of Ki Ramen on the 4400 block of Butler Street in Lawrenceville, a restaurant and bar that will have ramen as its main focus. No opening date has been set.

The two longtime friends currently run restaurants located across from each other on Butler Street. Branduzzi opened Piccolo Forno in 2005 featuring traditional Tuscan dishes, wood-fired pizzas and fresh handmade pasta. He opened Grapperia, a classic Italian-themed bar directly behind Piccolo Forno in 2015.  Li, previously of Tamari, opened Umami above Round Corner Cantina earlier this year. Umami is an izakaya, or Japanese pub, featuring sushi and street foods dedicated to umami flavors.

NEXTpittsburgh recently sat down with the two chefs to talk about pop-up plans for their new project and the inspiration that forged their collaboration.

How did the idea for Ramen at the Market pop-up take shape?

Domenic: We hope to do at least a couple pop-ups before we open. Roger really set the tone with the pop-ups he did for Umami and we’re kind of going by his formula. We’ll use social media to get the word out for the series of events taking place. The Market St. Grocery owners are friends and we really like what they’re doing. The idea of using their place for pop-ups came up in a conversation with them. They were super interested in the idea. There are actually two floors above the market that are currently not in use. We’re going to set up on the third floor which is a totally raw space which I think is cool. Roger agreed.

Roger: I liked the look because it’s a true pop-up; we’re going to have to create something out of nothing to really make it happen.

Domenic: We’ll use the market’s kitchen to make things throughout the day but much of the actual production will happen in the pop-up on the third floor.

What will make Ki Ramen, your upcoming restaurant, different from other ramen shops?

Roger: Our noodles will be house-made. It’s very labor intensive to make noodles. That’s why you can tell in so many ramen restaurants that the noodles are the same, so many use packaged noodles from the Sun Noodle company or dry noodles from other places. But I think if we are doing a ramen shop and we are concentrating on ramen, it’s best to make our own. I make my own noodles at Umami too, but we will be doing something even more different here. We want to create a brand new ramen product that people will feel like they can’t get anywhere else.

How did your idea come together?

Domenic: Part of it was our love for ramen and we felt like there was kind of a hole for that in Pittsburgh. We put our heads together and a blend of something that celebrates both of our backgrounds kind of evolved. As far as the idea of making our own noodles, I think it came from both of our food philosophies. You can see the Italian influence because we make everything in house at Piccolo Forno as well.

Your mom still helps with the pasta making, right?

Domenic: Yes, she does! And it follows for us that if you are giving someone a dish of food, it should be made from scratch from start to finish so they can really appreciate the love . . . that’s just another thing we both agree on.

So with the pop-up, you’ll be able to give people a sense of what the noodles will be like. What about the different kinds of broths?

Roger: For this pop-up we’ll be doing two ramens, a pork one called Tonkotsu and a vegetarian one which is miso-based. Basically when we make ramen, we have our main broth to start and then we tweak it with concentrated seasoned broths like Shio (salt), Shoyu tare, or Miso tare depending on the kind of ramen we are making.

Can you tell us anything about your plans for the dining space at Ki Ramen? 

Domenic: We’re still getting inspiration and we will reveal more and more with each pop-up, but we want Ki Ramen to have a straightforward, casual and family-friendly environment with a relaxed and “take it easy” vibe. The bar will be a little separate from the main dining area. There will be an open kitchen where you get to see all the action happening.

Roger: The kitchen will be on a mezzanine with counter seating in front of it.

Domenic: One of our favorite slogans for Ki Ramen is where you can find “soul in a bowl.”

Ramen at the Market will take place Monday, October 24 from 5 to 10 p.m. at 435 Market St., right off of Market Square downtown. Entrances are on Market St. and Graeme St.

Follow Ki Ramen for more details about future pop-ups and more restaurant details on their website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @kiramenpgh.

Tom O'Connor

Tom O'Connor is a photographer and writer currently based in Pittsburgh.