A Popular Brookline Ramen Chef Is Opening a New Japanese Street-Food Shop

Later this spring, Gantetsu-Ya will bring savory snacks to Coolidge Corner.

Ganko Ittetsu Ramen

Ganko Ittetsu Ramen chef Ken Iwaoka is opening Gantetsu-Ya in Brookline. / Photo by Shuhei Teshima

Two decades into his career in New England, chef Ken Iwaoka is about to harken back to the flavors of his childhood. The owner of Ganko-Ittetsu Ramen in Brookline’s retro, Coolidge Corner Arcade Building is opening a takeout-focused concept there later this spring. Called Gantetsu-Ya, it’s dedicated to takoyaki and okonomiyaki, two popular street-food snacks he grew up eating in Tokyo.

Iwaoka, who previously co-owned the now-closed Osushi in Boston, has been a vendor at the Japan Festival on Boston Common for seven years, where he’s made and sold takoyaki: molded, fried dough balls traditionally stuffed with chopped-up octopus. (Find him and his takoyaki there again this coming weekend, April 27 and 28.) They’ve been well-received by fans at the fest, the chef says, but it was only within the past year or so that he felt like he could develop a new restaurant concept around the simple snack.

“I see the potential. It seems a lot of people are interested in Japanese street food,” Iwaoka says.

The name Gantetsu-Ya has a layered meaning. It nods to sibling restaurant “Ganko Ittetsu,” which Iwaoka translates to “stubbornness” and “iron”—fitting for a determined chef with a solid idea. In the case of the newer business, “tetsu” also references the iron tool used to mold takoyaki. “Ya” also has two translations: “Family,” and “store,” which both apply to Iwaoka’s latest venture, he says.

To start, Gantetsu-Ya will serve up classic, octopus-filled takoyaki. But Iwaoka plans to eventually expand the menu with common variations, like scallions and pickled ginger, as well as unique creations like mozzarella cheese-filled takoyaki. “I’m trying to do something outside of what they do in Japan,” he says.

Gantetsu-Ya will also feature Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, a less-common version of the ubiquitous, savory pancake found all over his native country. In Hiroshima, ingredients like sautéed cabbage, yakisoba noodles, shrimp, and pork are layered on top of a crepe-like cake, instead of being mixed in with the batter, Iwaoka explains. The chef makes oknomiyaki for his own family quite often, and has served it at the Japan Festival before. “Most Japanese families grow up with this in their home,” he says.

In a restaurant setting in Japan, you’ll often find table-side griddles where guests fry up their own oknomiyaki, according to Iwaoka, though higher-end establishments have an open kitchen-setting with a chef griddling pancakes to order. That will be how Gantetsu-Ya is set up. The pint-sized shop—it’s even smaller than the 17-seat Ganko-Ittetsu Ramen—will have a few tables for dining in, but it will mainly offer takeout. As Eater Boston noted, the new restaurant’s proximity to the busy noodle shop will benefit hungry customers waiting inside the enclosed arcade building for a seat to slurp ramen.

Iwaoka is hopeful that Coolidge Corner will only be the first of several Gantetsu-Ya locations.

“In the future, I want to do what they do in Japan, an upscale version of [an] oknomiyaki restaurant, where there’s a chef behind the griddle in the open kitchen, serving alcohol, and other appetizers, like some seafood cooked on the griddle or things like that,” he says.

Gantetsu-Ya is currently under construction, with planned decor inspired by a Shōwa period street scene. “Okonomiyaki and takoyaki used to [be sold] from a pushcart on the street. Even ramen started that way. We’re trying to imitate that age of the push cart,” Iwaoka explains.

The street-food shop has claimed its place on Instagram and Facebook, and could open as soon as late May. Meanwhile, Ganko-Ittetsu Ramen serves up Sapporo-style ramen, beer, and wine in Brookline, and at a newer location on Thayer Street in Providence. Fans can try Iwaoka’s takoyaki at this weekend’s Japan Festival—and stay tuned for an opening date for Gantetsu-Ya.

Gantetsu-Ya, coming to 318 Harvard St., Brookline, in 2019, gankoramen.com.