It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to the restaurant industry, especially small businesses. Many business owners were forced to close the doors to their long-standing eateries. Meanwhile, other aspiring entrepreneurs had plans for their businesses that were derailed by the pandemic.
Keith Kittirungruang had originally planned to open his restaurant last year, but the quarantine began and altered his intentions. After putting the plans for the restaurant on hold for nearly 11 months, Sen Noodle House finally opened in March of 2021.
“My brother Kevin and I had the idea several months before the pandemic and were already testing out dishes and drinks. We actually had this place under construction a month before the lockdown, and it was just at a dead halt for 11 months,” shared Kittirungruang.
The restaurant highlights different types of Asian cuisines all featuring noodles. Ramen, curry soup, and fried noodle dishes are among the many variations one can treat themselves to trying.
Sen Noodle House opened at an opportune time: when restrictions began to lift and for 50% capacity to be allowed in restaurants. Despite the seemingly perfect timing, according to Kittirungruang, finding prospective employees and luring in customers has proven to be difficult during a time like this.
“When we first opened, it was literally just me and my brother for maybe three or four weeks. And then we have one of my brother’s friends who’s our main head chef, essentially. So, we’ve kind of just been running this place on a shell of a staff, essentially,” explained Kittirungruang.
Although Kittirungruang and his brother share the same vision, they need a group of minds to help.
“It’s been incredibly difficult to find people to work here. When I was hiring here, I posted a job listing, it ran for 31 days, and I got three candidates,” said Kittirungruang. “My brother and I just chose one and it’s worked out very well for us so far. We appreciate him so much and we appreciate anybody who’s coming and helping us out.”
Kittirungruang has experience with hiring and expertise in the industry from working at his parents’ restaurant when he was a kid. During the process of opening his own restaurant, Kittirungruang used his parents as resources to execute a proper business model and brand.
“My brother and I were able to really lean on the knowledge of our parents,” said Kittirungruang. “We could get their ideas for what type of business we wanted to do because we knew we wanted a fast, casual type of business where you come in and just order from the front window and enjoy your bowl of noodles. We would even do things like taste tests and then get my parents’ opinions on it.”
Despite retrieving guidance from his parents when he needs it, the pandemic is still occurring and the majority of restaurants continue to struggle. Throughout the 11-month period of his business ventures being put on hold, Kittirungruang experienced his fair share of doubts.
“Probably after like the second or third month I was just doubting myself and thinking if this is even the right idea,” Kittirungruang explained. “I heard this crazy statistic when the pandemic hit that restaurants in Los Angeles dropped about 75% in revenue. But talking to my parents, whose restaurant survived the 2008 economic housing crisis, helped me realize different principles I can instill and that if they can survive that, we can still make it regardless of the pandemic.”
That positive mindset is what Kittirungruang hopes to bring to the restaurant through the delicious dishes served there. With the restaurant in its infant stages, Kittirungruang is slowly building the Sen Noodle House legacy.
“We put our pride in our dishes, mainly,” Kittirungruang emphasized. “If we create a dish, then we want to make sure we can create it consistently. We want customers to be confident that if they come 10 years from now, the dish they had the first time they came here is going to come out the exact same way.”
In order to execute this, Kittirungruang shared that they are taking a “crawl before you walk” approach to the restaurant to ensure all operations are under control before mass advertising for the restaurant. Kittirungruang also hopes to wait until all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to advertise, so that hopefully the restaurant will be able to truly reflect the vision the Kittirungruang brothers have.
“We wanted to have a huge self-service station and a place where you can pay and order in the front,” said Kittirungruang, “but we can’t really do that right now because we don’t want to leave stuff out for people because of the pandemic. We can’t even leave chili trays on the table because we have to sanitize them between customers. So until things change, we’re really focusing on the comfortability of staffing, training, and operations before we drive new customers into the business.”
Although there are COVID-related inconveniences modifying Kittirungruang’s vision, they won’t be stopping him much longer. With the vaccine becoming more prevalent and people feeling more comfortable going outside, customer traffic has not been an issue.
“What really helped us actually was April 15 when the vaccine became widely available,” said Kittirungruang. “I guess the perception just kind of shifted because it became available to all adults above the age of 16. Ever since that day, we hit a sales number that was higher than it ever was before and we haven’t ever gone back on it.”
The restaurant’s new success can be solely attributed to the power of good food and word of mouth. Kittirungruang shared that there are already regular customers of Sen Noodle House that he’s establishing relationships with.
Although she has recently started eating out, Santa Clarita local Jasmin Smith still appreciates a well-thought-out take-out presentation.
“My family and I have been trying to do more of takeout for the safety of other people,” explained Smith. “So when my dad went to the grocery store and this guy said that the best noodles were here, we had to try it, and we love it.”
Besides good food, charismatic energy and attentive customer service behind the counter is just as important to sustain a restaurant. When those factors are evident to the customer, the customer will return.
“I really enjoy the variety. You could just get any type of noodles you want and it’s always really good. The customer service is also just amazing and everybody’s super friendly and it’s always welcoming,” emphasized Jasmin.
Another Santa Clarita local, Matthew Yung, has been regularly coming to the restaurant since its opening two months ago.
“The food is always good, it’s always fresh, and there are really great people who work here,” said Yung.
Even in the face of a pandemic, Sen Noodle House has quickly found a way to establish itself in the Santa Clarita Valley. With a cohesive objective and a lively delivery, the Kittirungruang brothers have made a name for their restaurant in the midst of COVID-19.