Hand-pulled noodles were a staple in Elvin Liu’s childhood, he shared, joking that the traditional noodles could be found on any street corner in China — just like Starbucks in the United States.
“I moved to Kansas around the end of the year of 2010. I saw a lot of noodle soups, like pho and Japanese ramen noodles … so I was thinking that I have to bring my favorite noodle soup to Kansas,” said Liu, who opened Magic Noodle in April in Overland Park.
Click here to check out the menu at Magic Noodle.
Magic Noodle specializes in hand-pulled noodles, also known as lamian (拉面), which originated hundreds of years ago in Lanzhou, China. The restaurant serves the noodles in six ways — string, classic, mid-round, mid-flat, flat and shaved — and prepares the noodles behind a plexiglass wall for those customers who wish to watch.
“Our noodles are very fresh,” Liu said, noting that Magic Noodle’s dough is freshly kneaded, twirled and pulled upon each customer’s order. “The dough is made from flour, water and salt. We don’t add anything else.”
Elvin Liu rips, kneads, twirls and pulls the dough into two, then four, then eight strands and so on.
Because the process of making lamian is more complicated than regular noodles, Liu admitted that it has been difficult to hire and train employees.
“Since I’ve opened the restaurant, I’ve been in the restaurant seven days a week,” he said. “I think the first year will be the most difficult, but I will train more people who want to learn and practice.”
Liu is also the owner of Nagoya Japanese Steak & Sushi, which he opened in 2017 in Ottawa, Kansas. At Nagoya, Liu has a manager who he can trust to train employees and operate the day-to-day responsibilities — allowing him to spend more time at Magic Noodle, he noted.
As a business owner, Liu aims to use innovative applications of AI technology in his restaurants to reduce the workload of employees, he shared.
One solution: BellaBot — a state-of-the-art delivery robot created by Pudu Robotics. BellaBot uses Lazer Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) and Visual SLAM to safely navigate a space. BellaBot’s bionic design mimics a cat, with a dozen facial expressions and sounds to make the robot as life-like as possible.
Servers put dishes on BellaBot trays, then simply click which table they’d like it to visit. BellaBot will travel to the designated table, stopping if things or people get in its way. After the dishes are taken off BellaBot, it automatically returns to its station.
Click here to learn more about BellaBot and Pudu robotics.
Although Liu is very likely the only restaurateur in Kansas with a BellaBot, he noted, the technology is quite common in China.
“It’s very popular in China, especially since COVID,” Liu said. “They use [the technology] to deliver to hotel or ICU rooms.”
Liu credited his wife, Sandy Lin, for the idea of bringing a BellaBot to Magic Noodle. She also took charge in decorating the space.
“It’s not just like a traditional Chinese restaurant, but we do have some [art] from China,” Liu said, pointing to the wall covered in panels that illustrate a busy village square. “She added some American style too.”
Since opening in April, Liu has already gotten to know a handful of returning customers, he said, adding that the local Asian community has been especially supportive.
“I’ve even seen the owner from the pho restaurant come in. I’m not always told how they like it, but I see them order more food to-go,” he continued, laughing.
Liu’s favorite dish is the Triple B, but he recommends that people come in and discover their own favorite dish and version of the hand-pulled noodle.
“I’m so happy to bring new tastes to Kansas,” Liu shared. “The challenge is that we have to have people try something new. I think once they try it, they are really going to like it.”
Magic Noodle is open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m.to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.