Crane Ramen: A Restaurant Designed to Comfort and Inspire

Crane Ramen, located in Historic Five Points in Riverside, is a lively, comfortable place to enjoy a bowl of its uniquely crafted noodle soups. In the dining room, designer Larry Wilson of DesignMind features original works by North Florida artists, including a series of tranquil botanical drawings. A cozy bar at the back of the space, lit by large Asian lanterns, is perfect for enjoying a cocktail after dinner, while waiting for a table, or for its own sake. Experiencing the space’s design elements, as well as Chef Steve Grimes’ creative take on ramen, rewards frequent visits and the restaurant is fast becoming a First Coast favorite.
Crane Ramen’s newest location at 1029 Park Street opened in early March. It is the brainchild of owner Fred Brown, who grew up in Jacksonville and now lives in Gainesville. Brown discovered what he calls “real ramen” — as opposed to the dried bricks of instant noodles favored by college students on tight budgets — fifteen years ago while living in New York City, working as a chef. The first time he ate at Rai Rai Ken, one of the first dedicated ramen shops in the city, it made a lasting impression on him. “I felt transported,” he says.
Brown’s passion for owning a restaurant goes back even further. Many years ago, Wilson remembers, Brown told him, “Someday, I’m going to do a restaurant and I want you to design it.” Wilson said he would, and in 2013, when Brown and his business partner, Bill Bryson, prepared to open their first Crane Ramen restaurant in Gainesville, the designer followed through.
Part of Brown’s enjoyment of Rai Rai Ken had to do with how the space felt. Traditional ramen shops in Japan and in cities around the world are often small, crowded places. Sitting elbow to elbow at a ramen bar creates a warm, communal vibe, says Brown, who asked Wilson to design an environment in which people felt good even before they sat down.
Crane Ramen in Five Points is more than twice the size of the original site in Gainesville. This enabled the owners to add a full-service bar, which made sense economically. It also meant using a design approach that ensures a feeling of comfort for the customer while also adding elements that connect the restaurant’s two locations.
Wilson says they also dealt with another challenge: “The space is super long and narrow.” To welcome customers into and through the new space, Wilson aligned the front door with the farthest point in the restaurant and added a full-length mirror at the cocktail bar end of the corridor to suggest that it goes back even farther. Botanical drawings on the wall and banners overhead guide customers by inspiring a sense of creative exploration.
Brown’s mother, Jacksonville artist and University of North Florida professor Louise Freshman-Brown, designed the restaurant’s logo and contributed botanical drawings that Wilson had enlarged and transferred onto durable, padded fabric panels. The panels run the length of the restaurant adding a contemplative atmosphere while guiding patrons to the cocktail bar at the back of the building. They also absorb sound.
The panels featuring Freshman-Brown’s artwork serve several purposes and reveal Wilson’s attention to efficiency and functionality. He also brought in details that can be easily maintained and will hold up over time without having to be repaired and replaced.
The banners, printed by Tim Elverston and Ruth Whiting of WindFire Designs, represent signature items brought over from the original Crane Ramen in Gainesville. Chris Fillie built a wall of stacked wooden blocks in a Fibonacci pattern in both locations. The distinctive wall situated across from the kitchen is another repeated feature. It creates a physical separation between the dining area and cocktail bar. There, the bustle and energy of the dining area gives way to a more relaxed setting in the cocktail bar where rough-hewn timbers frame warmly backlit liquor bottles and evoke a sense of calm.

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By Dylan Klempner • Photos by laird

Author: Arbus

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