Ramen noodles with a Thai flair.
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple
Narunya Estrada is an amazing artist. She’s also a skilled chef. At her newest restaurant — Rockin’ Ramen — both skills shine bright.
Central Texans are well aware of her kitchen talents. The Belton Thai restaurant that bears her name has been a Bell County favorite since the doors opened seven years ago.
The downtown Belton restaurant specializes in Thai food, the cuisine of her native country. With Rockin’ Ramen, however, she decided to go in a different direction.
As the name implies, the West Temple eatery features Ramen, a traditional Japanese delicacy. But, Narunya adds a bit of a Thai kick.
“We’re not Japanese,” she said Tuesday. “I’m from Thailand, and Martin (her husband) is from Belton. Our Ramen has more spice to it than the traditional dish.”
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Narunya met Martin in Thailand, where she was born and raised. She dabbled in the arts, and he was a U.S. Marine based in Okinawa.
“Once a year, I was sent to Thailand to take part in an annual joint operation with Thai forces,” Martin said. “I went every year — and that’s when I met Narunya. After we met, I tried to go back as often as possible.”
Martin retired from the Marines in 2004 after serving 30 years. Instead of returning directly to Belton, he decided to make a detour to Thailand. Two years later, the couple arrived in Texas.
“I went to Central Texas College to take ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, then I went to Temple College and got a degree in fine arts,” Narunya said. “My plan was to go to the University of Texas and further my art education.”
But, on the way, the Estradas made a stop at The Domain.
“We stopped to do some shopping and get a bite to eat, and she saw it — Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts,” Martin said. “We never even went to UT. Narunya had a new plan — she wanted to open a restaurant.”
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“In 2019, we started thinking about opening a place in West Temple,” Narunya said. “I wanted to do something different, so I went to Thailand to take a culinary course, then I went to school with a Japanese master chef in New Jersey. I learned the secrets of making Ramen noodles.”
Back in Bell County, Martin had found a suitable spot for the new venture. Then, plans screeched to a halt — COVID-19 arrived in the USA.
The pandemic was not an end to the dream — just a delay. In 2021,the Estradas found an ideal location on Green Hollow Drive, next door to another fairly new business — Jeremiah’s Italian ice.
“They are the yin to our yang,” Narunya said with a laugh. “They serve cold, ours is a little hot.”
Rockin’ Ramen opened its doors Jan. 15, and it didn’t take long for Temple to notice.
“We’re open seven days a week, and we’re getting good crowds,” Martin said. “You can’t get a seat here on Friday and Saturday. Business is good.”
Narunya’s artwork is prominent throughout the restaurant — from a large comic-book-style mural on the West wall, to the menus and restroom doors.
“The women’s room door is a mural of Marilyn Monroe,” Martin said. “Elvis is on the men’s door. Narunya painted both.”
The artwork — especially the large mural in the main dining area — is in a comic book style. So are the menus.
“I love pop art,” she said. “The bright colors attract fun.”
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These days, Martin and Narunya focus much of their attention on Rockin’ Ramen. Martin stops by Narunya’s in Belton every morning, but the couple is confident in their Belton staff.
“Most of those employees have been with us since we opened in Belton,” Martin said. “We have good managers and cooks there, so we can focus on the new business.”
At a time when workers are hard to find because of the ongoing pandemic, the Estradas have found a workaround.
“We need workers, and everyone needs more money right now,” he said. “So, we offered the Belton employees extra shifts in Temple. They are going back and forth. It’s a win situation for us and a win situation for them. Our employees are part of our family.”
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Rockin’ Ramen’s menu is somewhat of a surprise. Of course, there’s plenty of Ramen choices — available with traditional noodles or gluten-free rice noodles. There also are vegan options.
“Traditional Ramen is boring to me,” Narunya said. “On some of my recipes, I use chili peppers and spices to infuse Thai flavors."
The Curry-Men Ramen is a bit on the spicy side, and the Rockin’ Yummen and the Drunken Ramen are slightly wilder. But, fear not, the menu offers plenty of mild fare.
One of the biggest — and most pleasant — menu surprises were the Rockin’ Wings. Heavy on parmesan and served with pickled ginger, they looked, smelled and tasted amazing.
“Cooking and art are my true loves,” Narunya said. “They are both based on the same principle. You might say I put a lot of art into my food.”
WEDNESDAY | FEBRUARY 23, 2022
McLane Co. aims to hire 2,000 warehouse workers, drivers Friday
Our Town Temple
McLane Company, a leading supply-chain services company, will host its second annual National Hiring Day on Friday, and the company hopes to hire more than 2,000 drivers and warehouse workers.
The company has full- and part-time openings for qualified applicants. Warehouse workers must be 18 years old or older, and drivers must be at least 21.
“National Hiring Day allows job seekers to meet current hiring managers without an appointment, ask questions, discuss career goals and apply for jobs,” said Paula Hubbard, McLane’s chief human resources officer. “Some candidates might even receive immediate job offers.”
“This is a great opportunity for career-minded individuals who appreciate the value of affordable health care benefits, an industry-leading 401(k) retirement plan with employer match, paid holidays, vacation, tuition assistance and time-off based on years of service,” Hubbard said.
Candidates can apply in person at any of McLane’s 71 distribution centers nationwide from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 25.
No reservation or resume is required, but job seekers are encouraged to sign up and apply in advance by visiting http://joinmclane.com/national-hiring-day.
AROUND TOWN: iconic buildings
Two iconic Temple buildings, First United Methodist Church and the Kyle Hotel, are shown in Downtown. David Stone photo
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On this day in 1836, former Mexican soldier Nepomuceno Navarro cast his lot with the Texas revolutionaries by enlisting in Juan N. Seguín's company of Tejanos. The company served as rear guard for General Houston's army, and Navarro served with Seguín at the battle of San Jacinto. For his participation in the Texas Revolution he received donation and bounty land grants and a pension. He was a member of the Texas Veterans Association until his death, in San Antonio in 1877.
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