Noodles, drinks, world peace: that’s the mantra of Noodle Nirvana, a restaurant in Berea, Kentucky, which serves a mission alongside its dishes.
Noodle Nirvana, founded in 2016, supports a different local nonprofit organization every year with all tips and a portion of their profits from one day each month for a 12-month period.
In their first three years, they raised over $110,000 for three nonprofits: New Opportunity School for Women in their first year, Madison County Food Bank in their second year, and Hope’s Wings Domestic Violence last year. This year, they are raising money for Hospice Care Plus.
Berea residents and co-owners Mae Suramek and Adam Mullikin developed the idea for Noodle Nirvana during Mae’s 15 years in non-profit management. In her last tenure as a non-profit director, local restaurants routinely donated a portion of their proceeds on a slow sales night to Mae’s agency. They would also usually require staff presence and marketing for the event, and brought in very minimal dollars.
Mae and her husband and business partner, Adam, wanted to create a truly innovative and impactful partnership between non-profits and local businesses. Mae, having spent two decades cooking alongside her mom, had an incredible number of unique noodle recipes infused with rich Thai, Indian, and Chinese influences — like rice noodles in a rich coconut curry and spicy lemon grass noodle soup.
With these recipes, their ideas and careful study of social enterprises and marketing, Noodle Nirvana was born.
In its first year of business, Noodle Nirvana sold more than 37,000 noodle bowls, and quickly grew from three employees to 14. Committed to paying their staff a “living wage,” each of their employees starts at $10 per hour, making it possible for them to give away their tips.
In addition to tips and a portion of the profits, each year the selected non-profit has a permanent, in-store information display highlighting the nonprofit’s mission and current needs, which offers customers a chance to learn more about the organization and get involved outside of the restaurant.
Adding to their support of the local community, Noodle Nirvana strives to support local farmers and food businesses. They use Ballew Estates tea (another Mountain Association client!) in their unique tea offerings, local produce when it is in season, and more.
They continue to find great success in their catering offerings, and in 2018, they expanded to create Hole and Corner donut shop, using the restaurant space in the mornings when they’re not making noodle bowls. Additionally, in 2019, one of Noodle Nirvana’s longtime employees, Wil Bayne, started a new delivery business called Wil’s Delivery that they contracted to offer noodle deliveries on Friday and Saturday nights.
As a successful social entrepreneur, woman business owner, and so much more, Mae frequently speaks at events in and out of the state. You can often find the Berea College alumni supporting her alma mater by speaking at events like “Peanut Butter Gender,” the college’s business courses, and more. Listen to her March 2019 TedX Corbin talk titled “Noodles can change the world” here.
Mae and Adam also partner to offer business consulting in topic areas like ‘Building a Socially-Conscious and Impactful Business’ and ‘Empowering Staff and Building a Mission-Driven Team.’ In 2019, the Mountain Association was proud to sponsor Mae to attend the Social Enterprise Summit to exchange with other peers working in this world of social enterprise.
The Mountain Association is also proud to have provided affordable financing and technical assistance to Noodle Nirvana during its first few years in business.
To support Noodle Nirvana and Hole & Corner (as well as their new restaurant Happy Jack’s) during COVID-19 and beyond, please visit their website or Facebook page to learn about their current sanitation practices, gift card options, catering/pick-up/delivery services and more.