PekoPeko David Forster ’10 dishes how fond memories of nights spent with high school friends at their local Tokyo ramen shop inspired his Baltimore business. Jarrad Jinks digs into the story.
The rich scent of long-stewed broth and fried gyoza drift heavily street-side, through restaurant ventilation and the door as occasional customers step inside, led astray from their path by the tempting smell and cozy, warmly-lit interior. It’s late, and the surprisingly busy streets are full of hungry people. The picturesque storefront contrasts the surrounding night, the ramen shop is an oasis. It’s a common Tokyo scene—one that would invoke natsukashii memories for any person who has spent an evening downtown—but this shop is in Baltimore. David Forster's ’10 ramen success story is a savory one. Aspirations to change the Baltimore restaurant scene began during his time studying applied mathematics at John Hopkins University. He describes the experience as similar to that of anyone who graduates from high school—ASIJ especially, with its proximity to one of the world's largest metropolises—“you quickly realize that the food around any college in America is pretty lacking…And so, I missed the food that I ate in high school.” He found that many of his former classmates shared the same experience and frustrations at their universities. “But on the East Coast, New York started to see a lot of ramen shops opening up and then DC had a big ramen boom and I just thought that a ramen shop near Hopkins would do really well.” David graduated Hopkins
THE AMERICAN SCHOOL IN JAPAN
and, declining a job offer at Microsoft where he interned the summer of his junior year, moved in with his parents in New York. “I knew that when I graduated I wanted to pursue a ramen shop concept.” Immediately following the move, David began his networking effort, visiting ramen shops around New York, trying the food and meeting the players. Eating around paid off as David soon found himself a very brief position as a stage at Momofuku Noodle Bar, owned by renowned restaurateur David Chang. Shortly thereafter, David left Momofuku to help open Ramen Lab along with head chef Shigetoshi Nakamura. With David’s help, Chef Nakamura opened his own restaurant six months later and, after nearly two years studying in New York, David moved back to Baltimore in early 2017 to open PekoPeko Ramen with his John Hopkins classmate, Andrew Townson. Standing at 1,591-square-feet, PekoPeko is a very modest size by US standards and, despite the sub-75 seat footprint, does 200 covers or more on a normal night. Customers are drawn by the lit sign, a beacon in the dark, branded with an owl perched upon chopsticks. The seemingly odd name has many intrigued and offers David opportunities to provide some cultural insight, “the giongo Japanese I think are a really unique and fun piece of the language.” He explains