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Menya Rui's ramen comes from scratch — and years of love

The staff at St. Louis noodle shop, Menya Rui
Greg Rannells
Sauce Magazine
Steven Pursley (center, in green) opened Menya Rui in 2022.

When he was a child, spending summers in Japan with his family, Steven Pursley didn’t appreciate his mother’s insistence that he attend Japanese school during what would have been his summer vacations.

“I was fighting tooth and nail,” Pursley told St. Louis on the Air. “I didn't have the foresight to appreciate that experience at the time. But looking back, absolutely, I'm grateful to my mother, my father and all my family.”

The roughly 1½ months he spent in Japanese school during those summers laid the groundwork for Pursley to speak conversational Japanese. That knowledge came in handy when he decided to pack up and move to Japan in 2014 after graduating from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“I was at a crossroads in life. I didn't have a strong career path. I had been working in kitchens. So I decided to take a leap of faith. My mother is from Okinawa, Japan, so I wanted to take time to explore that side of my identity,” he said. “And in the back of my head, I always thought a ramen shop would be a good idea for business in America. So I was like, ‘Okay, two birds, one stone. I can explore my identity [and] go learn a trade.’”

Today, Pursley owns the noodle shop Menya Rui in St. Louis’ Northampton neighborhood. The restaurant was recently recognized by Sauce Magazine as the top new restaurant to open in 2022.

“We all care tremendously about what we do,” he said. “And we work our tails off to provide, I think, a valuable experience to people.”

The 960-square-foot shop holds a small staff and a maximum of 24 diners. The menu is limited — by design.

Steven Pursley joins St. Louis on the Air

“I have one three-door refrigerator. I can't have options for everybody. So we just stick to what we do, and I think that allows us to really hone in and put something special in front of you.”

Pursley joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss his experience reconnecting with his roots in Japan, what he learned about the different types of ramen and what it’s been like to launch Menya Rui over the past year.

“I definitely have moments, whether it's prepping by myself in the morning time or being in the flow of things in the middle of service, where I have a fleeting thought where it's like, ‘Wow, I can't believe I'm here.’”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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