Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. The Story Of How Naked Noods Saved Us.
I sat at a local diner, chasing the last of my fries with a cup of lukewarm coffee as the midnight hours ticked away, set the mug down with a clink, and declared that the new virus would impact supply chains.
This was December of 2019, before the news cycle began.
We should’ve known well beforehand. It should’ve been our victory, a moment that propelled us to new heights.
And yet, here we stood, staring at the precipice, feeling the ground crumble away at our feet. And yet, without this… Naked Noods would’ve never been born.
See, the thing is, my friend was preparing to head to China to celebrate Lunar New Year with her family. Even then, she had been told by many people that there was a virus going around, something that was really getting people sick. She was worried, because she’d heard the sickness was bad, and very virulent– In the large throngs of people traveling for the most important holiday in China, where people gather in large groups and celebrate, it created the perfect breeding ground for any sickness.
Back then, she wasn’t worried about herself, but about her grandparents, who were just a decade from seeing a century. It’s easy to catch something on the plane, after all, and all the public transportation she’d have to take to get to them.
She was waffling back and forth about whether or not she should go, and the rumors then that they were beginning to shut down all kinds of public transportation.
By all means, this should’ve been just a normal talk between friends, and after we’d said our goodbyes, that should’ve been it. But even then, I couldn’t help but think that something was off.
China, after all, had a roaring economy with high growth that they were really proud of. Shutting down enough public transportation for me to be able to hear about it in the USA was unusual, to say the least. Something else was afoot.
Back then, it was impossible to know just how large of a global impact this would have. But this felt… different.
I shrugged it off. I mentioned it offhandedly at a few meetings. Surely, if it were a bigger deal, more people would be talking about it. Surely, if we had to do more, others would also sound the alarm.We decided to prepare by ordering some more ingredients, just in case. After all, even back then, we knew that if China got disrupted, the entire world’s supply chain would be disrupted in a domino effect.
We didn’t find additional backup suppliers. We didn’t try to get inventory early. We didn’t prepare the way we should’ve.
And so when the virus hit, and hit with all its force and chaos and threw the world into a perpetual cycle of unprecedented times, we were caught off guard, unprepared, despite our advance knowledge, vulnerable and exposed for our meager preparations.
It was two weeks to flatten the curve, to begin. Just two weeks. That’s all we had to hold out for. Two weeks of delays, and everything would go back to normal, right? Our suppliers promised as much as well. It’s just a temporary disruption, they said. It’ll clear up soon. It’s fine.
We trusted them. We sent out emails about order delays. It’d come soon, we promised. It’ll be okay.
Two weeks turned into three.
Our production lines and production crew sat idle, with no materials, nothing to do. Everything was tight, and everyone still needed to live, pay rent, eat, right? We took orders so that they could still be paid, with the promise that things would come, trying to do the right thing by our people and by our customers, try to appease everyone at once.
Three weeks turned into a month.
Taking orders now felt bad. But how else could we pay for our people? How else could we continue paying rent? How else could we survive? We had already started to see some more fragile businesses crumble, unable to pay their staff, their rent, and called it quits.
I made the decision to keep taking orders anyway.
But still, our packs grew heavier, and heavier, and the hordes of angry voices were no longer just echoes on the wind, but a thunderous storm of discontent, and rightfully so, and we were no longer climbing to success, but scrambling up a landslide of mistake after mistake after mistake, desperately trying to keep from being pulled under.
A month turned into two months.
“It was supposed to be here already,” I whispered, “Fuck. They promised us it would be.”
We thought we were climbing a mountain to the top. Instead, all we were doing was trying to climb out of a pit we’d dug ourselves into.
If I had to make the decision again, I would do it again too. People over profits. We didn’t miss payroll once during the pandemic, and didn’t furlough anyone.
Our nutrients, our packaging, our dehydrated powders just weren’t coming. We were sitting on mountains of orders, and each flavor was missing some amount of nutrients, some amount of powder, some amount of packaging. All of them were 80% assembled, and just missing the last pieces.
So close, yet so far. The pit grew deeper.
Panic started to set in, a deep unease and anxiety that punctuated every second of every waking moment. I never wanted to check emails anymore, didn’t want to look at social media. Nothing. I knew what I’d find there.
I doomscrolled on an anonymous account, as many did during the pandemic. Post after post from other entrepreneurs lamenting the state of their business, defeated words about shutting down businesses that had lasted half a century, it was like watching the world crumble around us, and us just waiting our turn to go down like everyone else.
Were it so easy to give up, I would’ve done it a long time ago. It was July, 2020. My birthday was coming up. A “golden birthday,” they called it, turning 28 on July 28th, and I would begin with a mountain of orders and nothing to show for it.
I was drowning in self-pity.
Golden Birthday, ha. It’d be one of the worst birthdays I’d ever had. Or…
I could feel something stirring, an all too familiar spite in the face of failure. A last breath, a trickle of defiance that welled up, little by little, until a torrent of emotion and anger brought my mind crackling back to life.
I refused to go out like this. Fuck the suppliers. Fuck the pandemic. Fuck the people yelling at us.
Stop sitting idly and obediently.
I built Vite Ramen in the face of those who said we couldn’t do it. All we had to do was do the impossible again.
And why not? Doing the impossible is what we’re good at.
I called an emergency meeting.
“We’re going to make it,” I started, “We’re going to do the impossible.”
How could we, people asked, when we didn’t have ingredients, materials, anything to work with?
“We look at what we have, and we make something new out of it.” I took a deep breath, looking at our bank account and what we had left. “And we need to have this product done in two weeks, maximum. Or we go under.”
There were no protests. No one crying out of stress, no one dramatically saying we couldn’t do it, no one questioning the decision or timeline.
Instead, they laughed. Laughed in the excited, crazy, wild way that we do when faced with the impossible, eyes burning with determination and grinning with the cocksure, relentless abandon that told me everything.
“Let’s do it.”
And we did. In less than two weeks time, we created a design. We got labels and shipped over. We tested boxing dimensions, set up our operations, stretched out new supply lines, and fought and spit in the face of the world telling us to fail, to fall down quietly.
Maybe we would fall, someday. But it wouldn’t be now. And it would never be going gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And Naked Noods was born.
We’ve done a lot more since, upgrading the packaging, changing the puck type, but Naked Noods is still there, our most popular product we’ve ever made, and one that represents our tenacity and our struggle.
That’s the story of Naked Noods. It’s one of many. I smile whenever people gush about its versatility, its adaptability, and its ability to stand up to any dish they throw it at.
If only they knew how true that really was.
I hope you’ve been enjoying these stories– They take me a long time to write and look back on, and there’s always a lot to confront. You can always find any stories you missed on our blog.
But hey, now you’ve read the story of Naked Noods, why don’t you get some for yourself?
UPDATE: Get the special Black Friday deal here - https://viteramen.com/products/small-business-saturday-18-pack-33-more-free
-Tim, CEO/Founder Vite Kitchens