At 1 West Victory, Landon Thompson, Tony Seichrist, Brad Syfan and Thomas Bishop are creating a foodie’s paradise. First, the Atlanta transplants converted the former Florence dining room into El Coyote, an elevated take on cantina cuisine and sister restaurant to The Wyld Dock Bar. Upstairs, the team is preparing to open a unique raw bar, and downstairs, tucked into the back corner of the renovated ice factory, patrons will find Savannah’s only ramen shop: El Coyote Ramen. It didn’t take long to make an impression: Savannahians have been bowled over since their first slurp. Here, Thompson ladles out the secrets of their runaway success.
On filling a niche:
One day, my partners and I wanted to go find a little ramen shop, sit and talk shop … and we couldn’t. There was nowhere in Savannah focusing on true-to-form ramen. Some places have it on the menu, but it’s an afterthought. Ramen’s the kind of thing that needs to be focused on — I’ve learned that lesson 10 times over now, since I’m in here 15 hours a day making tonkatsu broth with 80 pounds of pork bones in it. A lot goes into this little bowl of soup.
On venturing into uncharted territory:
I’d never made Asian food of any sort before — almost everything on the board, I’ve cooked professionally and personally, but I always went out to get Asian food. Tony and I took some trips to Atlanta for taste tests, and I played in the kitchen and read constantly. In the end, the power of ramen was stronger than the fears in my mind.
On using the best ingredients available:
We’re using locally sourced, high-end agriculture and produce. We want to show people the value and honesty in this food. No preservatives, no added chemicals. There’s nothing here that’s not straight out of the earth. When you take in this style of food, you feel better.
On knowing the rules in order to break them:
With something like ramen, tradition is very important. Something I talk to my cooks about is being careful with fusion. If you haven’t been cooking French or Italian classical for a while, don’t start adding Mexican, Korean and Japanese flavors to it, because you’ll never understand where you’re supposed to be. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of flavors and muddy up the quality.
We want to stay really traditional with everything. Our only offshoot is that we offer a few different noodles. Ramen noodles have a certain amount of bite and flavor because it’s an alkaline noodle … it has a very specific texture. We also have udon, which you don’t see in ramen. If you want to be gluten-free, we have rice vermicelli — also my wife loves rice vermicelli, so I just had to!
On progressing Savannah’s food scene:
The scene’s had great bones already, and looking ahead I see a hunger and thirst. Not for modern — everyone’s over that, nobody wants foams and gelées or plates that are $38 for just a bite. People want a breath of fresh air here. So many good places have been around forever, but there’s a lot of room in Savannah.
On family and an unexpected career path:
I went to Columbus State University for a degree in criminal pathology — I wanted to hunt serial killers. I had a very different idea for my life when I was growing up, but my father’s side of the family has been in the liquor distributing business forever. My great-grandfather ran the biggest illegal whiskey ring in the South during prohibition, then when Prohibition ended, he got the third available liquor license in the state. We’ve always been in this realm of food and entertainment, but it was always a personal thing. I was always the kid who cooked. In third grade I’d have friends over, roast a chicken, make soup from scratch and make a salad for everybody. Eventually, between friends, my dad and uncle, I was convinced to drop what I was doing, go to culinary school and open a restaurant.
I’ve never looked back. I’ve found my calling in this. I wake up and go to bed thinking about it. We all enjoy putting on a party, and in this industry, you miss a lot of parties, holidays and family time. But we get to have 300 members of our family over for dinner every night. It’s written in our bones.