BY OYAOL NGIRAIRIKL
Terrence and Naia Leon Guerrero were hit with challenge after challenge as they worked to open Rice & Ramen — across from the Pacific Island Club Guam, but with the help of family and friends they’re still standing.
“Barely standing,” Terrence says, “But we’re still standing.”
And the challenges were many, mostly associated with preparing the space, then dealing with shipping and rising food costs, the couple said. As new businesses owners with a drive to succeed, they’re learning to deal with each issue as they arise. Also, and perhaps more importantly to Naia, they’re learning to enjoy the freedom of being their own bosses and working to build a future for their family and a legacy for their 3-year-old daughter, Luna.
“We’re getting through it,” Naia said. “Having our own business is cool and working with my husband and having our daughter be able to hang out here … for me it’s 100% better than what I thought it could be.”
On Aug. 8 they held a blessing ceremony and had family and friends enjoy some food with them. On Aug.9, they opened to the public, and have had a steady flow of customers coming in to enjoy their version of Korean food.
“The basic idea of Rice & Ramen is what we eat at home. What do we enjoy? What are the things that have really shaped our idea of food? I’m CHamoru and Mexican – my mom is Mexican – and my wife is Korean, and we all eat rice. … I grew up eating Japanese style noodles, she grew up eating Korean style noodles,” said Terrence Leon Guerrero, who runs the kitchen side of the business.
The menu includes Garlic Ribs, and a Crispy Mushroom dish. On the ramen side of the menu, there’s a Kalbi Ramen dish with a simmered beef stock. All have a multitude of ingredients.
After graduating from high school in Guam, the couple went to California. They lived in Los Angeles for almost 15 years when they had their baby. They wanted their child to grow up with family. “Both our families are here,” Naia said. “And with both our schedules, him working in the restaurant business and me working in entertainment industry, it meant our baby would be raised by nannies. So, we decided to come back home.”
Naia’s bachelor’s in graphic design from Loyola Marymount University and master’s in marketing from the University of California, Los Angeles are being put to good use with their new endeavor. Terence studied at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Arts in Pasadena, and later worked at Nobu Los Angeles, which focuses on fine dining. But he’s also known since the age of six that he loves to cook. He said the time spent in Los Angeles opened their eyes — and tastebuds — to different culinary styles and experiences.
Back in Guam, Terence Leon Guerrero spent some time with Lenny Fejeran – who owns Pika’s Café with his wife Pika Fejeran. He said while working at Pika’s Café he and Naia started thinking about venturing out and opening their own restaurant.
“Working there I learned that in this moment at time, I can do this for my family,” he said. “Me and my wife felt there was a need to take this opportunity, with other places shutting down let’s go the other way.”
“We’ve invested our entire lives into this project to make it happen,” he said, sharing his gratitude to local Chefs Lenny and Dylan Saad, who provided advice. They’re also grateful to their family for all the support, when work started more than a year ago at what used to be a pachinko parlor and karaoke bar.
And then there came the challenges of opening in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which meant delays and more. When the restaurant’s tables arrived on island, only half survived the trip, which meant that the couple had to source a local shop to custom-make the rest of the tables to match. They had to rebuild their menu as the cost of food continued to rise in the past year.
“Even up until the week before opening we were tweaking the menu,” Terence said.
About a month into their new business, they said most of the feedback is “pretty positive” and people seem to like the open kitchen concept.
“We want to be as open and transparent with how we do things in the back of the house,” he said. “We wanted it to be more open so the guests can see what we’re doing, and we can see how they’re reacting to the food we make … we can answer questions or explain how something is prepared.”
Naia said the more casual setting is offset by the quality of the food they serve.
“We don’t skimp on anything,” she said, adding it’s not always easy to get quality products into Guam at affordable prices but they believe “it makes a big difference in the food.”
Terence said he also designed the menu to make use as much as possible of locally grown foods, from papayas to microgreens.
“We’re all about being transparent with our food and being true to who we are,” he said, adding that much of what’s on the menu is food his mother-in-law shared with him over the years. He’s added his own little twist to some of them. “We’re not trying to provide an authentic Korean food experience,” he said. “The recipes we created here are recipes we eat at home. We’re just trying to be authentic to who we are.” mbj