ST. LOUIS — Nearly a decade ago, Steven Pursley, armed with a fresh political science degree, was gearing up for law school when he decided a career change was in order. He contemplated engineering for a moment, until deciding his next move would be more than 6,000 miles away in Japan.
Call it the ramen pivot.
Pursley's journey completed its roundtrip last week with Menya Rui, his first brick-and-mortar ramen restaurant, which opened for business April 21 at 3453 Hampton Ave. in Lindenwood Park.
Growing up, Pursley spent part of his childhood in his father's home town of Union, Franklin County. The rest was spent in his mother's hometown of Okinawa, Japan.
“We spent a lot of summers in Japan, visiting the grandparents,” Pursley said.
He said his interest in Japanese food stemmed from the time spent in Japan, but also at his home in Union, where his mother would switch off serving Japanese food and American food to the family.
So after graduating with the political science degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in December 2013, and deciding he wanted a new career path, Pursley opted to move to Japan and took up work in multiple noodle shops to learn ancient ramen-making techniques.
He spent three years working in Japan before returning to the St. Louis area in 2018. He began cooking locally through his pop-up called Ramen X Rui, first out of his apartment, and then a few nights a week at Indo, a popular southeast Asian restaurant located in the Botanical Heights neighborhood. After a year or so of looking for a space to open shop, Pursley landed on the small but "perfect" 960-square-foot location that was formerly F&B’s Eatery. He said most of the spaces he was finding in St. Louis were far too large for a ramen store.
“I wanted something that felt cozy,” Pursley said. “Most ramen shops in Japan are pretty small.”
Menya, which translates to "noodle shop" in Japanese, was met on opening day with long lines of customers waiting for a seat to open at one of the family-style, long tables featured in the restaurant, according to social media posts.
The location seats 24 and is owned by Mike and Steve Herman at Hampton Plaza LLC. Pursley said he pays around $1,500 per month for rent.