Dayton chef launches ramen nights at Tender Mercy: ‘It’s pure comfort’

Credit: The Idea Collective

Credit: The Idea Collective

Dayton Chef Mariah Gahagan is launching “Send Noodz” — a ramen night from 5 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday at Tender Mercy.

To kick off the series, guests can expect $15 bowls of tonkatsu ramen with pork belly chasu, fresh noodles, seasonal vegetables, house pickles and local duck eggs. For $5 more, guests can add on a Lucky Dog Sake juice box.

Credit: The Idea Collective

Credit: The Idea Collective

“It’s pretty authentic,” Gahagan said. “I might get weird with it. It’s going to be a lot of locally sourced products.”

It’s a labor of love

To make tonkatsu ramen, it’s a labor of love.

Gahagan starts off by marinating pork belly for a couple of days before she can sous vide, press it and crisp it up to order. She then roasts a pan of pork bones that goes into a stock pot to boil with ingredients like ginger, scallions, carrots, celery, onions and dried mushrooms. She lets the stock simmer for 24 hours.

Everything is house made, besides the noodles, Gahagan said. She is pickling local vegetables and using local duck eggs to top the ramen.

“It’s pure comfort,” Gahagan said.

Gahagan is self taught when it comes to ramen. She recalled reading Momofuku: A Cookbook by Chef David Chang before honing in on her ramen skills during the pandemic. She is a lover of all soups and said she would eat ramen for breakfast and not think twice.

Credit: The Idea Collective

Credit: The Idea Collective

32 years in the local restaurant scene

Gahagan, originally from Yellow Springs, has been in the restaurant industry for 32 years. Her first job was working at the Sunrise Cafe in Yellow Springs as a dishwasher at 15 years old. She then worked at The Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs where she spent time learning every position. It was there where she was inspired by Kim Korkan, Mary Kay Smith and Elizabeth Wiley to pursue a career in the restaurant industry. Gahagan said she had planned to go to art school.

“I just realized that I really loved food,” Gahagan said. “I think wanting to eat things inspires you to want to know how to make them.”

She worked at The Winds Cafe off and on for five years, learning every position, before she moved to Dayton at 21.

Highlights of her career in the Dayton region include helping open Coco’s Bistro as a sous chef, becoming the executive chef at Sidebar and serving as the executive chef at Lily’s Dayton.

“I think it’s worth it to know every step of the way,” Gahagan said. As a leader, I try to lead by example and not ask people to do something that I haven’t done or wouldn’t do. It’s good to have that background I think.”

Gahagan has always had a love for the tight-knit community and lifestyle of working in the restaurant industry, but after the pandemic she realized she didn’t want to return to the chef life. She said being a chef is a high stress position physically and mentally and after having 1.5 years off, she was looking for a change of pace.

Finding a new home at Tender Mercy

Gahagan originally came to Tender Mercy seeking a bar back position, but the owners of the underground bar built her a position with the title of production chef. Gahagan takes care of the ordering, receiving and prepping of the beverage programs at Tender Mercy and Sueño.

“We’ve had an executive chef level creative and talent kind of in the back taking a breather from chef life for the last couple years and she was ready to spread her wings creatively again,” said Chris Dimmick, who owns the cocktail bar and restaurant with David Kittredge, Ginger Roddick and Chef Jorge Guzman.

Gahagan said she had been thinking about doing dim sum as a pop-up at Tender Mercy for awhile, but after making ramen for an anime night at the bar she changed her mind.

She has always had a love for Asian food and when she first moved to Dayton she worked at a handful of Asian restaurants learning various skills.

Credit: The Idea Collective

Credit: The Idea Collective

“I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to it,” Gahagan said. “There’s a lot of pho in town, but there’s no ramen place. I’m hoping there’s a demand for it and people like it.”

“I think we’re filling a little bit of a void downtown for sure,” Dimmick said.

He’s looking forward to Gahagan owning a night at Tender Mercy. In Dec. 2022 when Chef Dane Shipp was hosting pop-ups at the bar, the owners learned that if they have something craveable on the menu in limited supply, people will get excited and come out to try it.

“Ramen nights by Chef Mariah will be an extension of that same idea and we’re really excited for her to be able to put her name and face on something more publicly again,” Dimmick said. “Anytime we get to shine light on the talent across the team we love to do that.”


Send Noodz will be a permanent pop-up that’s low-key and casual on Wednesday nights at Tender Mercy. The bar is directly below Sueño, down the subway stairs off the sidewalk at 607 E. Third St. For more information and updates on ramen night, visit Tender Mercy’s Instagram page (@tendermercydyt).

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