Chef Wayne Carrington, rocking the world of ramen since 2014, now brings his expertise to New Jersey.
In 1998, Carrington retired as an NYPD officer and moved into the world of food, becoming a manager and VP for franchises such as Fat Burger and Five Guys. Despite his fast-food background, the film Ramen Girl inspired Carrington to take an interest in ramen.
Through lots of trial and error—and Googling, he says—Carrington mastered the making of this traditional Japanese dish, playing with different ingredients and flavors to make it his own.
“Throughout my journey with ramen, I learned that everywhere I went was basically the same thing,” he says. “So I thought, ‘What if I started to fuse ramen with something different? Things like oxtail and jerk chicken?’”
In 2014, Carrington launched his first restaurant, Roc N Ramen, in Westchester County, New York. He opened a second location in the Bronx a few years later. In early December he opened Vibe N Slurp in Toms River, with plans to open more around the country in the future.
“Vibe N Slurp[s] are going to be my personal set of stores,” Carrington says. “I feel like I kind of lost the homey feel at Roc N Ramen, so the big difference at Vibe N Slurp is the welcoming atmosphere.”
How did you get involved in the world of food?
Wayne Carrington: Before I was a police officer, I was a district manager for Wendy’s at age 20. I did my 20 years in the NYPD, retired, and went right back into food. I worked with Five Guys Burgers and Fries when they were first starting out their franchises and became the VP for the whole Northeast.
What spurred your interest in ramen?
I first saw ramen in a movie called Ramen Girl. Outside of the instant stuff, I had never really had ramen. I told my daughter to find a ramen place we could go to in Westchester. The closest one was in Manhattan, so we got down there and there was a line stretched one city block and down the next street. We stood in line for almost three hours. That whole week we hit ramen spots, and I was blown away.
How did you learn to make ramen?
Google, recipe books and a lot of trial and error. I learned the basics of how to make the broth, and from there, just kept trying. I started playing with the idea of opening a ramen shop, and met a Japanese gentleman who lived in the same building as me. He told me he had a group of guys coming in from Japan, and I could make dinner for them and see how they like my ramen. And they loved it!
What was a special moment after opening your first shop?
I was lucky enough to have the creative consultant for the movie Ramen Girl come to my shop in New York. I made ramen for him just like the movie. I gave him my oxtail ramen that I had planned to do for a special, and he told me I had to permanently put it on the menu.
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Are your Roc N Ramen stores still open?
Yes, but I have since distanced myself from them. Roc N Ramen is the franchise company; Vibe N Slurp is my personal set of stores. I’ve added a different flair to my new dishes. I feel like I kind of lost the homey feel at Roc N Ramen, so the big difference at Vibe N Slurp is the atmosphere.
Do you see a difference in your New York versus New Jersey customers?
Absolutely. It’s amazing, the reception we got from the people here in Toms River. I’ve been shut down every day so far from people buying me out of food. It’s been a tremendous response.
What’s it like taking this new journey with your family?
It’s been fun. It can be hard sometimes, dealing with family, but overall it’s been a fantastic experience. My youngest daughter is 21 and my oldest daughter is 24, and they’ve been learning the ropes of the back parts of the business. It’s been somewhat of a challenge but in a very good way.
Tell me a little about the Vibe N Slurp menu.
In a typical tonkatsu ramen, you’re going to get your broth and noodles, your protein of pork or chicken, and it will be garnished with scallions; bamboo shoots; half a seasoned, boiled egg; nori and edible orchid.
My favorite is the spicy boneyard rib tip ramen. I cut the ribs off pork belly, boil them down in Sapporo beer, sake and other ingredients, and cook them in my own Thai chili barbecue sauce. I gave it to a guest and they lost their mind, so I had to put it on the menu. It was an instant hit. The oxtail ramen also seems to be a favorite here in Toms River.
What are your plans for Vibe N Slurp?
Right now we are on a 10-unit buildout. We’re going to head to Texas in late January/early February, then we have plans to do Brooklyn and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. From there we are off to New Orleans; Clemson, Georgia and South Beach, Florida. We will be coming back to New Jersey, and I’ve sparked an interest in the Red Bank, Asbury Park and Cherry Hill areas.