During this year’s Festival of the Forks, Rust Belt Ramen had a stand outside the Courtyard Marriott Hotel with no expectations of how the Albion community would respond to their Japanese cuisine. After a positive response from the residents of Albion and the students at Albion College, Anthony and Emily Cox are looking for the opportunity to grow Rust Belt Ramen within the city of Albion.
A Personal Love For Japan
While living in Japan, Anthony and Emily Cox fell in love with Japanese culture, the environment, the people and the food.
“I went for the first time when I was in high school as part of a Naval ROTC program I was doing,” said Anthony Cox. “It just feels like home. When we went back together and stayed there for half a year, it really started to be home.”
Emily Cox mentioned that Japanese food has always been a comfort food for both of them.
“If it’s cold or it’s raining, some people love casseroles,” said Emily Cox. “But for us, it’s always been noodles.”
Anthony Cox has experience working as a cook in five-star lodges and resorts across the country, such as the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, Colorado. Despite having experience cooking different types of food, Cox’s personal love for Asian culture is what led to the venture of a Japanese restaurant.
“I could do an Italian restaurant or a traditional French bistro, but my personal love in life is Asian culture, especially Japanese,” said Anthony Cox.
Paying Homage To Albion’s Past
Anthony Cox was born and raised in Auburn Hills to a family that worked in the automotive industry. He finds pride in being from what is considered the Rust Belt, areas of the Midwest and Northeast United States with old and closed industrial factories.
“We are the post-industrial stretch of America where industry left and moved out,” said Anthony Cox. “For those of us that are born and raised in it, the Rust Belt is kind of a badge of honor of ‘we were the blue collar workers that made this nation great.’”
When figuring out a name for their new venture, the Coxes settled on “Rust Belt Ramen” because it spoke to them on a personal level but also on the history of Albion.
“It gives homage to the history of Albion because when the steel foundries pulled out and left all those buildings to literally rust into the ground. That’s what this is,” said Emily Cox. “But that doesn’t mean that’s what we’re stuck in.”
The Challenges of Opening A Location
Finding a retail location in Albion and raising capital is a challenge, according to Anthony Cox. Six months ago, the Coxes reached out to the Albion Reinvestment Corporation for further guidance.
“Because the city was left alone for so long, the [locations] are not condemned but they’re not appropriate to put anything in them yet,” said Anthony Cox. “We met with ARC and we spoke to them about where they’re at. We were told that their fundraising to actual work to availability was about two years.”
In the meantime, Anthony and Emily Cox are planning on running a food truck or a trailer around the Albion area.
“I don’t want to wait two years,” said Anthony Cox. “We’re gonna start generating more revenue, doing more festivals like Festival of the Forks.”
According to the Coxes, the city of Albion is in the process of generating ordinances for food trucks.
“We just don’t know what they are yet,” said Emily Cox. “In the meantime, we can keep doing festivals but we know a food truck won’t necessarily benefit Albion in a way that a brick and mortar would.”
Anthony Cox hopes that if they are able to secure a location in downtown Albion, the interior decoration will reflect the post-industrial imagery of Albion’s history.
“We want to stay in Albion,” said Anthony Cox. “We’re going to work within that time frame.”
In the meantime, Albion residents and Albion College students can stay up to date on Rust Belt Ramen’s happenings through their Facebook page.
Correction: The original publication of this article misquoted Emily Cox as saying, “We know a food truck won’t necessarily benefit Albion in a way that a food truck would.” This has been corrected to her original wording, “We know a food truck won’t necessarily benefit Albion in a way that a brick and mortar would.” We apologize for any confusion.