Partnership perks | Happy Gut Sanctuary + Roc City Ramen 

click to enlarge From left, Happy Gut Sactuary owner Catt Hsu and Roc City Ramen owner Michael Goode. - MIKE MARTINEZ.
  • From left, Happy Gut Sactuary owner Catt Hsu and Roc City Ramen owner Michael Goode.
After High Falls staple Fina’s Café and Bakery closed at 229 Mill St. in 2020, the area’s options for a daytime bite or caffeinated beverage were next to nil — until Happy Gut Sanctuary and Roc City Ramen opened together in that spot in late November 2023. Together, the businesses offer a variety of fermented teas, coffee, and both Japanese fare and American comfort foods with an Asian flair. Though the businesses existed separately before taking over space on Mill Street, the owners have history.

“We’ve known each other since just about the dawn of both businesses,” said Catt Hsu, who co-owns Happy Gut with her partner, Robert Heffner.

Happy Gut, which specializes in fermented teas, loose leaf teas, and tea- or coffee-based specialty beverages, originally opened in the summer of 2018 on Park Ave. About six months earlier, Michael Goode opened Roc City Ramen just around the corner on Alexander Street.

“When I was renovating our Park Ave. space I would get hungry and go get some ramen,” Hsu said. “Michael basically fed me a couple of times a week, and our friendship grew from there.”
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Goode carried Happy Gut’s kombucha, and whenever Hsu made Korean kimchi, Goode would use it in his gyozas (Japanese-style pan-fried dumplings).

Goode opened a second ramen shop in Corn Hill in late 2019, and Happy Gut moved to The Hungerford Building in December 2020. Both businesses weathered the pandemic by shutting down the restaurants and offering contact-free delivery or to-go options.

Happy Gut was part of a rolling wave of businesses that left The Hungerford in 2023, though its kombucha production remains in that building while Hsu and Heffner sort out where it will relocate.

Hsu’s Mill St. landlord, JADD Management, wanted a restaurant for the two-story space. But she didn’t have a commercial food background, and had only offered a couple of dishes at her old shop.

When it came to selecting a food business partner, Hsu — who was born and raised in Taiwan until age 10 — knew she wanted to bring in someone who took pride in showcasing their Asian heritage as well.

“Happy Gut has been an avenue for me to be able to showcase my roots,” Hsu said.
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Goode’s mother is from Japan and his father is African American. He founded Roc City Ramen as a noodle shop, but over time expanded his menu to include curries and dumplings, drawing inspiration from his mother’s recipes.

“There is that homey feel in his food that I really love,” Hsu said.

At Mill St., fans of both businesses will find familiar drinks and fare, including Happy Gut’s tea eggs, but Roc City Ramen’s menu has evolved further to include torikatsu and tonkatsu — panko-crusted chicken and pork cutlets — that are served over rice bowls with sweet cabbage and Japanese barbecue sauce, or in sandwich form. “It’s ​​still following the lines of what I grew up eating, what my mother used to make for me and still makes for my kids,” Goode said.

The menu also includes house soups, salads, grilled cheese, and breakfast sandwiches offered in the morning. These familiar comfort foods are meant to satisfy the palates of those working in the High Falls district, but each has a little Asian flair to it, Goode said.

For example, the breakfast sandwich has an add-on of bacon or chashu (marinated pork belly also used in the ramen dishes).
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“I'd like to keep to the traditional roots of my mother's recipes,” Goode said. “But I found that in this area, for there to be survivability, there has to be some adaptability as well.”

Hsu said the menu will keep expanding. “We're both very keen on servicing the customers in this new neighborhood,” she said. “Feedback is always great and we're always down to accommodate what we can.”

On Saturday, Feb. 10, Happy Gut Sanctuary will present a Lunar New Year Latte Art Throwdown, which will include an Asian American artisan market from 4 to 7 p.m. Roc City Ramen will serve its Japanese menu from 4 to 6 p.m., and signup for the throwdown begins at 6 p.m. $5 to play, with prizes from local businesses. |

Rebecca Rafferty is an arts writer for CITY she can be reached at [email protected].
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