Interview with Mark Henry
Owner and Chef of Rooster’s House of Ramen
323 N. Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903
Meet the newest destination on the Sunday route of our Delicious Downtown Food Tour – Rooster’s House of Ramen! Mark Henry, owner and executive chef, is a Food Network Chopped Champion and victor of Cooks vs. Cons (first ever episode!). His food is soulful, and his restaurant hip and relaxed with local art throughout. We sat down with him to get the scoop on his young eatery in downtown Colorado Springs. He’s got a great story to tell. Check it out below.
Are there any fun facts or secrets about the menu and/or how it was created?
The menu was created with the hope of being able to accommodate everyone. We use the freshest ingredients we can find and cook almost everything from scratch right here at Rooster’s House of Ramen! The menu changes with the season (or sooner if we get bored), and we always try to keep it inventive.
How did you get started in the restaurant industry?
I grew up cooking with my mother. She was a cook in the U.S. Navy and loved all aspects of food. She was an avid gardner, and we often went strawberry, apple, cherry, and peach picking while growing up. One of my fondest memories is sitting out on the back deck of my childhood home with a roll of ritz crackers and a bowl of warm strawberry jam, the leftovers that wouldn’t fit in the jars that we were canning, and talking with my mom while we ate the sweet strawberry mixture. From there I went on to work at a mom & pop restaurant in my hometown called The Log Cabin. I worked to have spending money while I was in high school until I left home for the military. When I was medically retired from the military in March 2009, I needed a means to make ends meet and feed my growing family (at the time this included my wife and two young daughters). I went back to the only thing I knew in the civilian sector, jumping back into the restaurant world. It was a temporary solution until I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. It developed into a labor of love, and I have never left the food scene, always being involved in one capacity or another.
What’s it like opening your first restaurant and what would you say is the hardest thing about opening a new restaurant?
Opening your first restaurant is all of the feelings compressed into one and experienced together. There is excitement, pride, fear, economic worry, pressure, and fun. The hardest part of opening a new restaurant is getting all of the moving pieces together and making sure that under the pressure of the job you don’t lose sight of taking care of the people that are around you or losing the vision and making it something it was never meant to be.
Tell us about some of your core values as a business owner?
My core values as a business owner are simple: work hard and set a good example for the staff around me. I want to make sure that the staff is taken care of and have the tools to do the job knowing that they will in turn take care of me. I strive to be honest and continue to do what I love because then it isn’t really work, it’s fun and fun isn’t hard to have.
Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for a noodle house?
I went to culinary school when I retired from the military but never planned to own my own restaurant. I was actually quite against it. As time went on and my experience within the industry grew I began to have a change of heart. I ultimately wanted to own my own place so I had a gathering place for the community and a place that I could work and not feel guilty when my wife and kids came to visit me. I have been in places where I have seen family come to visit and employees not be able to take a minute to say hello. I wanted to be able to change that. I can still follow my dreams, continue to progress in my education and still have a place where my family can be involved and proud of what we are doing. The whole crew here is part of my family now and we have extended that experience to them as well. I had a terrible motorcycle accident about a year prior to opening the restaurant and wrote the entire business plan on my couch. I had been experimenting with ramen at my previous job and found that it was an underrepresented niche in our market that I was intrigued by and loved cooking. So a ramen shop was born!
You’re a Food Network celebrity! Tell us about your appearances.
Celebrity, no. I appeared on the first Episode of Cooks vs. Cons, hungry for an opportunity to see where I stood as a chef amongst my peers on a national level. I won that episode but wanted a more realistic snapshot on a more competitive stage. And therefore ultimately ended up competing on Food Network’s Chopped. I was put to the test against formidable opponents and had some pretty serious ingredients thrown my way as well. It was a very raw and uncut snapshot of a chefs ability within the confines of a kitchen. I was faced with ingredients that I had never seen, encountered or heard of before. It was an excellent experience and one of which I am very thankful. I was also victorious on this show. It gave me the confidence that I needed to seriously start forging towards opening my own place. Cooking on TV is very different than being in a restaurant kitchen however. And while I am honored to be named as a celebrity, I would much rather be known for my food and being a chef. I have not pursued and have even turned down some opportunities to be on television again; I believe I belong in my kitchen with my crew and spending time with my family when I am not at work.
How would you describe the culture at Rooster’s House of Ramen?
Rooster’s is a very laid back, hip spot. We cook the food that we want to cook, unapologetically. We play old school hip hop and there is usually a food oriented show on the TV in the cocktail lounge area of the restaurant. We are working hard but we are having a blast doing it and our customers enjoy having fun with us. Many a repeat customer have been made and relationships formed.
How did you come up with the name “Rooster’s House of Ramen”?
Although I have accomplished a large deal of things in my professional career, the single most important person in my life is my wife (Amy). And my most cherished accomplishment is our marriage. In December we will have been married for 15 years. We met in the military and when she was pregnant with our first child she was discharged from the military. We now have three little girls and my wife is a stay at home mother. She had the idea to home school our children so that I could see them and still work the hours that I have at each of the restaurants I’ve worked. She has never really had a hobby or anything that she has done for herself since we have been married. About 5 years ago, she found a hobby and fell in love with it – playing roller derby. In order to spend more time with her I decided to coach her team. Her derby name is Rippin Rooster. Since she has stood by my side and supported me through everything this was my way to pay homage to her and show her how much I love her.
Can you tell us about the symbolism behind a noodle bowl and how one should go about eating it?
There are many different thought processes on a bowl of ramen. The symbolism of ramen is really quite perplexing and deep when you get down to it. There are multiple “courses” contained in one bowl. Depending on the dish the noodles are thought to ward off evil spirits, or extend one’s life. Slurping has a meaning and not slurping has another. But probably the best part of ramen is that there are no rules. It is good, hearty soulfood that is open to interpretation. The old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” fairly beautifully encompasses ramen in a nutshell.
Rooster’s House of Ramen is known for it’s “Make America Slurp Again” campaign, can you tell us more about how and why it started?
Make America Slurp Again was an accident and I have to give credit to Dionne Roberts of Rocky Mountain Food Report for that one. She was doing an article on Rooster’s as we were ramping up to open and playfully included it in her journalism. And as they say “the rest is history” it speaks to our playful style and has been one of our tag lines since before day one!
Come taste Mark Henry’s incredibly delicious ramen on our next Original Colorado Springs Food Tour offered every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You won’t be disappointed!
Cheers, Your Rocky Mountain Food Tours Team