Co-Founder, CEO, Vite Ramen
Like most people, Tim Zheng ate a lot of instant ramen in college. He had a moment of reckoning when he looked at the back of the packet and realized he was living on little more than flour, oil and vague meat aromas — a familiar feeling for fans of Top Ramen and Maruchan. Most people respond to that feeling by eating a salad now and then. Tim and his twin brother Tom Zheng, then still students, responded by creating their own healthy instant ramen company.
“We started thinking, what if we can make an instant ramen that respects history, tastes delicious, is just as easy to prepare and delivers all of your nutrition?” says Tim, 29, the CEO and co-founder of Vite Ramen. He majored in managerial economics at UC Davis while his brother studied clinical nutrition. Tom Zheng has stepped away from the company due to health issues, but he was instrumental in making Vite Ramen as nutritionally complete as possible. One packet of Vite Ramen contains between 26 and 31 grams of protein and at least 25 percent of the suggested daily value of most essential vitamins, from vitamin A to zinc. Tim, who cooked at high-end restaurants before college, patterned the flavors after classic Japanese ramen styles like miso, tonkotsu (creamy pork broth) and shoyu (soy sauce).
After perfecting their recipe in 2018, the brothers took to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to launch it into reality. They reached their goal in under an hour, one of the fastest-funded campaigns in the food category in Kickstarter history. The $249,000 pledged by over 4,000 backers was enough to get Vite Ramen a manufacturing facility in Vacaville and custom-built machines for every stage of the noodle-making process. It would have been cheaper to outsource the manufacturing to China, where the Zhengs have family connections, but “we refuse to do that,” Tim says.
“Why make healthy noodles if we’re making them and selling them as cheap as possible, and trying to get as much profit as possible by abusing other people?” he says. “We wanted this to be made in the USA for that reason, and we pay ethical wages.” He adds that all Vite Ramen employees have the contractual right to “mental health days” and that everyone in the company, including the CEO, takes turns on the manufacturing line.
The company’s biggest challenges came with the pandemic, which drove up demand for Vite Ramen’s mail-order noodles but stymied the supply chains involved in making it. Then there were the 2020 wildfires, one reaching less than a mile from the Vacaville manufacturing facility. “We were not able to take advantage of that demand,” Tim admits. “We actually suffered a lot for it, because there was a three-month period where we had to openly be like, ‘Hey, guys, we can only ship out orders every so often right now, because we just don’t know when supplies are coming.’”
In 2022, supply chains are beginning to limp back to health, and so is the Vite Ramen supply. The company has expanded its offerings by introducing non-Japanese flavors like vegan Sichuan chili, a collaboration with the cult-favorite chili sauce brand Fly By Jing, and a nutritional supplement called Nanoboost that Tim says can help neurodivergent people maintain a healthy diet.
“We should all be as good to our bodies, as good to our minds as possible, within the constraints that we have,” he says. “That’s definitely what we want to deliver.”
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