By Nicole Kidder, Reporter
Just before lunchtime on March 4, 2020, after more than a year of slashing through reels of red tape, Megan Corns proudly flung open the doors to MadLo’s Ramen House. Outside, overjoyed neighbors happily chatted in hour-long lines waiting to sample steaming bowls of hearty Japanese soup, crispy spring rolls and creamy boba tea at the first Asian-inspired eatery in Nine Mile Falls.
Less than two weeks later, the pandemic forced the new restaurant owner to pivot. Drastically restructuring her well-planned business model, Corns made sure MadLo’s never missed a beat as thousands of unprepared businesses went into lockdown.
“Who would have thought 2020 would have been the worst year in history to open a restaurant?” Corns asks while reflecting on the restaurant’s journey. “But we are making the best of it! We worked extremely hard to open this restaurant in Nine Mile. We stayed open for almost two months as takeout only because of our great community. We have many regulars who have supported us tremendously.”
Asian-Inspired Cuisine with a Nine Mile Twist
At MadLo’s, every dish is made fresh to order and customized to the customer’s preferences for noodles, meats, vegetables and spiciness. Filling smaller $8 or larger $12 bowls, customers can choose from several signature ramen recipes or build their own soups from a hearty selection of ingredients. The menu delivers something that every family member can enjoy with gluten-free, low-carb and vegan options prepared in separate spaces to prevent contamination. All of the meat, and most of the organic vegetables, are sourced from local farms in Eastern Washington.
“We do things a little different than traditional Ramen houses. To us, Asian-inspired means using ingredients from different cultures, so there are Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Korean influences. We are happy to bring something new and fun to our little town,” says Corns, who emphasizes that she wants everyone to feel welcome, including young kids and teens.
Alongside its authentic cuisine, MadLo’s is gaining a fun reputation for its quirky food fusions. A local favorite is the colossal Ramen Burrito. The flavorful wrap is loaded with ramen noodles and spicy gochujang or teriyaki meat and then topped with corn, cilantro, cabbage and a house mayo. Residents are also crazy about the 3 for $8 Baocos, an Asian-inspired taco that is nestled in a warm bao bun.
Another house star is the delectable boba drinks. Described by enthusiasts as magical, these Taiwanese bubble teas are infused with tapioca balls. The gluten-free treat is soaked in honey and water to produce a soft, chewy candy that floats in the creamy brew.
“Boba is very popular in many places in the U.S. and Asia, but it hasn’t really made its way to the Spokane area. It’s my favorite thing ever! Everyone in our family is obsessed with it,” Corns raved in a Facebook post, noting that it took a year to learn how to perfect the finicky boba balls.
Finding a Footing in Nine Mile Falls
Plans to open a restaurant began brewing years ago in the Corns home. Residents of Suncrest for the past decade, Megan and her husband, Jeremy, who owns Anchored Art Tattoo in Spokane, dreamed of bringing something different to the community that also creates connections.
After polling neighbors for wants and needs, Megan says she briefly considered opening an ice cream shop. However, serving up Asian cuisine was a natural fit for the health-conscious, food-adventurous family of four. The restaurant is cleverly named after their two black-belt daughters, Madalyn and Lolo, who are serious about their ramen.
Despite the enthusiasm, Megan quickly discovered that opening a new restaurant in Suncrest is not a simple process. Finally securing a prime spot across from Rosauers in the spring of 2019, she spent months battling electrical, plumbing and septic issues along with several construction delays and county inspection demands. Meanwhile, she built anticipation for a fall opening by posting drool-worthy teasers on Facebook community pages.
When opening day finally arrived the following spring, Corns was ecstatic to see a never-ending line of ravenous neighbors show up. While it amped up the wow factor, MadLo’s didn’t need to lure in locals with a jaw-dropping mural painted by famed Spokane artist Daniel “Godffitti” Lopez or a surprise appearance by Justin Britt. The former Seahawks center graciously popped in to support his favorite tattoo artist’s new venture by enjoying a bowl of truffle beef ramen.
Nine Mile residents praise the restaurant for opening right when the community needed it the most. Corns, proudly noting that every MadLo’s employee has remained working throughout the pandemic, says it was important to her family that they hire locals, especially those with families and teens who need work experience.
Pivoting Toward Success During the Pandemic
Adopting a responsive, never-stop mindset has ensured that MadLo’s continues to thrive during the community’s most difficult times. With the soft opening’s success, Corns knew she needed to make immediate adjustments to keep pace with the unexpected demand. Aiming to reduce wait times, she brought in a professional chef to train staff on efficiently managing the kitchen and then added counter service to relieve pressure on the limited dine-in seating.
Just as she rolled out the updated website, COVID-19 dealt a blow by shutting down Washington restaurants and bars. Despite not qualifying for PPP disaster assistance as a new business, Corns was determined to see her dreams succeed. Within two days, she launched systems for online ordering and takeout, creating a craze for boba tea pickup while Suncrest residents hunkered down at home.
As the frightening weeks passed, MadLo’s comforted virus-concerned residents with healthy miso broths, slow-cooked phos and coconut curry rice bowls. In the background, Corns navigated the frustrating safety regulations that often changed with little notice and juggled supply disruptions for staples like eggs, takeout containers and Asian basil.
Community feedback often informs her decisions, leading to the switch from sticky rice to white rice and swapping out the commercial air fryers for healthy oil. Residents love picking the weekly specials and eagerly scoop up the discounts on their favorite dishes, including the orange chicken rice bowl and truffle beef ramen.
“It’s the best orange chicken with the right amount of sweetness and sauce, and the chicken breading has a good, thin crisp to it,” raves local resident Nickie Dunn in an online review.
Getting Creative in the Kitchen
Corns is just as experimental in the kitchen as she is with her business ideas. “Being a well-rounded cook, I was able to create the food we serve with the help of a consult chef and Food Services of America. We’ve had many trials and errors with ingredients with some organic vegetables just not holding up to daily use.”
Corns loves to use the weekly specials as a way to test out new recipes and seasonal dishes. She whips up feeding frenzies with one-day sales ranging from an Angus Beef burger sandwiched between a fried ramen noodle bun to a refreshing lemongrass chicken salad. Residents are always excited to see a surprise pork dumpling soup, pad thai or pho special pop up on the MadLo’s Facebook page. Many of the trial dishes end up on the permanent menu by community request.
Since she believes in satisfying the sweet tooth, Corns made sure her family’s original creamery dreams came true as well. Last summer, vanilla, birthday cake and green tea ice cream were added to the menu. It’s worth spending the extra dollar for the juice-filled popping pearls or mango jelly toppings.
Alongside the tonkotsu soup and seaweed salad, MadLo’s also stocks hot green tea, Japanese Asahi beer and a variety of local sparkling wines, brews and IPAs, including Space Dust and Irish Death. Choosing from an array of exotic Thai iced teas, taro smoothies, frozen matchas and non-dairy slushes, customers can customize their drinks any way they want them, just like the ramen bowls.
As Corns looks forward to her second year of business, she reveals that there are still more ideas up her sleeve. “When we finally get out of quarantine, we plan to bring a sushi chef in for special weekends. The restaurant has been a labor of love. With the community’s support, we hope to stay open for many years to come.”
MadLo’s Ramen House thrives in spite of COVID setbacks
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