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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Gainesville mourns beloved downtown restaurant Crane Ramen

Local fan favorite permanently closed Dec. 31

<p>Crane Ramen preparing for a celebratory New Year’s Eve party the night before their official closing Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022.</p>

Crane Ramen preparing for a celebratory New Year’s Eve party the night before their official closing Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022.

Before Crane Ramen, Juanita Colorado had never stalked a restaurant before it opened.

The 29-year-old UF alumna passed by the restaurant’s storefront for weeks before its 2014 opening to see when she could finally get her hands on ramen that didn’t come in a plastic cup.

Now, after countless date nights and spicy kara-age chicken appetizers, Colorado and her fiance's special spot in Gainesville won’t be waiting for them when they return from their new home in Oklahoma. 

Crane Ramen, Gainesville’s first specialty ramen restaurant, shut its doors permanently Dec. 31. 

“It’d been there for us throughout our entire relationship and our chunk of time in Gainesville,” Colorado said. “Saying goodbye in that way was rough.”

The restaurant bore witness to many memories for the couple, who had relied on it for special celebrations and weekday meals. It was the last restaurant they visited before leaving Florida in late 2020.

Crane announced its closure via Instagram on Dec. 12. What followed was an outpour of nostalgic comments from regulars who mourned the shop’s closure.

Former owner Fred Brown explained that keeping affordable prices on the menu while paying employees a living wage was becoming close to impossible alongside an onslaught of increasing food and labor costs. 

“I’m still heartbroken, and I’m definitely feeling melancholic about it,” Brown said. “It’s sad because so many people love Crane.”

There are no plans to reopen the restaurant to maintain the integrity of its original business model, Brown added.

Adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the locally-owned restaurant made the business unsustainable, Brown said. The transition from only offering to-go orders to reopening its open-air patio area for “dine out” in September 2020 wasn’t enough for Crane to continue its tradition of high-quality service.

Dealing with inflation and increasing labor costs proved to be the white flag that signaled the end for the business, Brown said.

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Crane Ramen provided a first-of-its-kind escape in a downtown dining scene that hadn’t yet explored the world of Asian soup cuisine. 

The hole-in-the-wall space, the local artwork and artisanal carpentry from Gainesville artists and the lovingly crafted origami animals all alluded to eating in a major urban city while incorporating the charm that makes Gainesville home. 

“We really loved the ambiance, even though it could get a little crowded,” Colorado said. “It was basically the only place where if I got sat at the bar, and I was literally rubbing elbows with a stranger, I didn't even care. It was fine.”

Former Crane bartender, host and server Renee Hancock said she made some of her closest friends while working there in 2021.

Despite her affinity for her time there, Hancock said restaurant closure is unfortunately common. 

Crane joins a list of restaurants in downtown Gainesville that have faced closure in 2022 – including Madrina’s and Mother’s Pub and Grill.

During her 16-month employment, Hancock saw the prices of certain imported items increase as much as 25 cents. 

The expense increase for a locally owned business across the world from its cooking’s homeland affected some integral ingredients in common orders, such as the Japanese citrus yuzu used in various cocktails, Hancock said.

“For a restaurant that has a specific cuisine — especially an American restaurant that has an international cuisine — it's even more difficult to continue serving that food when food prices increase,” Hancock said. 

Some specials the beloved restaurant hosted included weekly deals like the $10 Tuesday bowl and special events like the Street Fighter Ramen Tournament. During the event, customers selected menu items named after Street Fighter characters to battle in a March Madness-style tournament to determine the winning ramen for that week.

Although both Crane Ramen locations had a special place in his heart, former co-owner Bill Bryson resonated more with the atmosphere Crane created in downtown Gainesville.

“This one hurts a little more than Jacksonville to see go,” Bryson said. “It was kind of an escape from the outside world.”

Despite the bittersweet feelings that came with its closure, Crane had a great run, he said, and left its wedge in the city’s culinary scene.

What Crane brought, Colorado and other ramen lovers agree, was a unique, savory glimpse of life outside of Gainesville that inspired a host of new culturally inspired kitchens to take root. 

Colorado hopes as Gainesville continues to develop into a larger city, investors and community members will place more value on supporting locally operated businesses and continue evolving the city’s flavor palate.

Crane Ramen’s sister location in Jacksonville also announced its closure in November – albeit more suddenly than the Gainesville location. Crane Ramen Jacksonville posted on Instagram that Nov. 13 would be its last day of operation, and thanked its followers for their support.

The Gainesville location announced its closure with more leeway, giving Crane fanatics two weeks to get their final fixings in before the year ended. The restaurant even hosted an “End of an Era” party on Dec. 31, offering a champagne toast at midnight and the chance to say one last goodbye to the Crane Ramen crew.

As the clock ticked away the final seconds to the new year, ramen lovers raised one final glass. They saluted to the close of a chapter that, although wistfully concluded, will not be forgotten.

Contact Loren at lmiranda@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @LorenMiranda13.

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Loren Miranda

Loren Miranda is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for the Avenue. She is also a copy editor for Rowdy Magazine. When she's not writing, she enjoys watching either critically acclaimed films or cheesy reality TV, no in-betweens.


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