Hundreds have made the pilgrimage across town for lunch at Coby’s in the Arkansas Heart Hospital since the café opened about five years ago. Now there are times they won’t have to drive quite so far to get the wildly popular ramen bowls Chef Coby Smith offers.
The Arkansas Heart Hospital food truck travels to catered events where hospital marketing and public relations people share information about the Keep the Beat program, the $99 cardiac screening and educational program that assesses heart disease risk. It can also be used to serve communities hit by disaster.
The food truck will make regular appearances around town to serve the ramen bowl of the day. The most recent menu, available on the truck’s second appearance – in East Village on Tuesday, May 15 – included ramen with crawfish, andouille sausage, slow-roasted onions, peppers and celery.
“If there’s something you don’t want on there we can leave it off but we realized that if you give people so many options it slows down the service,” Smith says.
He doesn’t make the noodles by hand, but they are the traditional kind, purchased from a Japanese company.
“We do ours a little differently – we remove a lot of the fat in the stock,” he says. “And we put lots of fresh vegetables in there.”
Zucchini and squash noodles are available upon request.
“I always carry some vegetable noodles with me,” Smith says.
The hospital café has sold more than 420 bowls in one day – that record was set on the day the bowl served included seared scallops and jumbo lump crab.
“We only do that one every six weeks or so. I have a six-week cycle, so about 16 different bowls and that will be the same on the truck,” says Smith.
On its first outing, the line wound around the parking lot and the truck sold about 200 bowls in the two hours it remained open, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“The truck is stocked with about 300 servings, so we had plenty,” he says.
Bowls are $8.50 each, and the truck accepts only credit and debit card payments – no cash.
Ramen found a place at the Arkansas Heart Hospital after the hospital’s lobby and café underwent an extensive renovation in 2015, the idea coming from Dr. Bruce Murphy, the hospital’s owner.
“He called me into his office and he said we’re renovating this café and I want us to serve ramen in it,” Smith says. “He asked me if I had a passport and I said yes, and the next week I went to to Tokyo the following week to taste authentic ramen.”
Murphy’s assistant went with him.
“She’s from Tokyo so I was able to talk with a bunch of chefs and get a lot of feedback and talk about the process and how they do it and why they do it,” he says.
Smith encourages everyone to give his ramen a try.
“We serve healthy food at the Arkansas Heart Hospital,” he says. “We’re cost-conscious – we’re not trying to make money. We’re just trying to make people happy and serve them food that’s affordable and that has a lot of integrity.”