The six of us (Naomi & Robert, Me & Andre, Chane & Jon) at a private ramen noodle making class in NYC!
A great business partner must include Love, Ambition, Passion, and Grit.
In 1986, Robert and Naomi met in Okinawa, a small island just south of mainland Japan. Robert was enlisted as a US Marine stationed in Naomi’s hometown, teaching basic English classes to the locals during his spare time. At this time Naomi held 3 part-time jobs simultaneously, one of which was a sales associate at a nearby gift shop that was popular among tourists. A friend encouraged her to learn English in order to help Naomi communicate with the customers, so she began to attend Robert’s English class. A few months after the class ended, Robert went out to the city and stumbled into a small local gift shop.. And suddenly it was kismet.
They married in 1987 and decided to start a family in Okinawa. Despite the gaping language barrier Robert disciplined himself into learning Japanese in an effort to land a job among the locals. After juggling odd jobs and financially struggling to support their new marriage the couple decided to take a leap of faith switched careers. Given their love for coffee, the two literally poured themselves into studying the traditional art of espresso and developing strong connections among coffee-bean distributors abroad in Italy. Over time they created the brand “Seattle Espresso” together and franchised 3 successful locations in Okinawa, which still exists today.
Throughout 15 years of running a thriving business in Okinawa, the couple had 5 children: Andre, Chane, Natasha, and Mani and later after The Phams relocated to the states, Leonardo was born into the “phamily.”
In the winter of 2000, the couple resolved to leave everything behind in Okinawa and start a new life in the United States. They settled in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania near Robert’s hometown and opened a new coffee shop brand called “Casa Mani”, named after their youngest son at the time. Although their passion for coffee remained unaltered, the couple hit a roadblock once Starbucks and other big name coffee shops grew ever-popular. After 6 long years of hardship, they closed the door on espresso and began to explore an entirely new concept: The art of Ramen.
As the youngest daughter of 6 children Naomi often spent time alongside her mother Haruko, the head cook at a small grocery store, which sold ‘Bento boxes’ and quick traditional lunches to the locals. Perfecting the techniques of traditional Japanese cooking passed down from mother, Naomi and Robert began challenging their limits in creating the perfect bowl of Ramen together.
Long before the ramen-trend took foothold in the United States, Issei Noodle humbly opened its doors on High Street in Carlisle in 2008. The menu fused various styles of ramen alongside other noodle and rice dishes inspired by Robert’s background from Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, as well.
Since the opening day, Issei Noodle has exploded and developed into a well-organized, successful and thriving family business. Although Robert and Naomi gradually near their retirement they are often seen in the original Carlisle Location which is now operated by their eldest daughter Chane and her husband Jonathan, and they can occasionally be spotted checking in on the Lancaster branch which is proudly owned and operated by their eldest son Andre and his wife Donna.
There was no shortage of inspiration and plenty of room for experimentation in Andre’s home as he grew up under the guiding hands of his culinary mastermind mother and father. As they encouraged him to experience the real world through working before and after school in the family businesses, Casa Mani and Issei Noodle, a vision of his own future began to take shape.
Andre graduated in 2008 from a small private school, Carlisle Christian Academy, just a few blocks down from Carlisle High School where Donna graduated in 2009. Aside from dinner with a friend at Issei Noodle during her junior year, their paths didn’t cross again until a couple of years later. Both were attending separate colleges at the time, Andre at HACC and Donna at IUP, when they decided that together they would leave their universities to start something together.
In October 2011 Andre and Donna organized a pop-up experience on Pitt Street with another local chef which they collectively called Pitt StrEAT Food Market. During the cold weekend Autumn and Winter nights the pair set up to sell rice bowls with grilled short-ribs and chicken skewers, and fried banana egg rolls to the locals, college students, and bar-hoppers of Downtown Carlisle. They practiced prepping marinades, desserts, compiling menu formats and point-of-sale configurations in their apartment and at the Issei Noodle kitchen in the weeks leading up to their first “dinner service.” This was only the beginning of the journey that the pair would take that one day led to Issei Noodle Lancaster.
It took time to coordinate, but after two years of working with local small business associations and loan management companies, the couple relocated to Lancaster to begin work on their own Issei Noodle branch. It was 2013 when Pham Enterprise, LLC was approved for a business loan… but funds were frozen by the government shutdown, and they were unable to access it for a period of time. This almost halted the work their Queen Street store, but Andre came up with a quick-concept to pass the time: Issei Banh Mi.
The pair sold banh-mi out of a small walk-up window out front of their newly renovated restaurant concept for about a year while training kitchen and serving staff for ramen service. In May of 2014 Issei Noodle Lancaster opened their doors.
Three years later in May of 2017 Andre and Donna got married in an intimate friends-and-family-and-staff ceremony held in Steinman Park of The Pressroom. Later in September the company acquired a liquor license which allowed for Japanese beer and sake to be served in their establishment. In May of 2018 the couple found out that they were expecting their first child and later welcomed their daughter Luna Namiko-Marie into the phamily in January 2019. In June of 2019 Issei Noodle opened a stand in the historic Lancaster Central Market called Dōzo.
In 2014, the eldest daughter of Robert and Naomi Pham – Chane decided to move to Kauai, Hawaii in search of a new career path. Since the grand opening of Issei Noodle in 2008, she has been a waitress throughout her high school career and further back as a child, she was often seen around her parent’s coffee shop after school.
With her background in bookkeeping for her parent’s business, she landed a job working with vacation-home contracts. Prior to her leaving her parent’s business, she hired a few replacement Waiters. One of the hires was her high school classmate Jonathan Keller. Before entering Issei Noodle, Chane and Jonathan has never exchanged words in High School but knew each other through mutual classmates.
Shortly after Jonathan was hired, Chane left for Hawaii. After 8 months of working in an office environment, Chane realized how much she missed the restaurant business and decided to return home. By then, Jonathan had left Issei to work at the County Prison as a Correctional Officer and Chane stepped back into the restaurant to learn more about the family business.
Although the couple lost communication during these months, they rekindled their friendship upon her return. The couple began dating at the end of 2015, as Chane began learning how to cook with a wok from her father Robert, and mastered the family’s recipes. Jonathan also took a part time position as a Ramen chef at Issei to learn the family business.
In the spring of 2019, Jonathan and Chane married at the Carlisle Courthouse. Today, you will be able to spot Jonathan cooking on the wok alongside his wife. They hope to take over the Carlisle Location upon Robert and Naomi’s retirement.
In December of 2019, Jon and Chane welcomed a beautifully healthy baby girl into the world. They named her Remington Rebecca Haruko Keller, paying homage to Jon’s late mother Rebecca, and the matriarch of the Nerome family who still lives in Okinawa, Japan: Grandma “Obachan” Haruko.