After spending three years behind bars at a California correctional facility, Ron Freeman became an entrepreneur and launched the first black-owned Instant Ramen Noodles brand
His life witnessed a change in 1996 when police discovered over a gram of crack cocaine in his trash can in the Gardena neighborhood southwest of Los Angeles.
He was left with a choice of either telling them who put it there or take the charge and go to prison. He pled no contest and was sentenced to three years in prison.
“In our culture, snitches get stitches. You don’t tell,” Freeman told The Outline. “The culprit was a well-known member of the Crips, and ratting him out would mean certain death,” he said.
While incarcerated, Freeman was exposed to eating ramen noodles and often used it as an alternative to money. He worked as a prison cook and observed the inmates’ love for packaged ramen noodle soups.
According to the World Instant Noodles Association, the world ate roughly 608.7 billion units of ramen between 2012 and 2016. Of those, 21.3 billion were consumed in the U.S. and a number of those packets are consumed in correctional facilities.
Freeman noticed that most inmates would eat three or four packs of ramen a day. That observation sparked in him an idea for a business. But with good behavior and a drug program, he served less than half of his three-year sentence and was released in 1998.
When he got out of prison, he reportedly received $3,000 from an anonymous donor. Freeman thought of the money as an unspoken “thank you” for staying quiet about whom the crack found in his cart really belonged. “I knew exactly who it was from,” he said.
That money encouraged Freeman to discard his hot dog cart and upgraded to a catering truck, selling tacos and breakfast burgers around Gardena. His business did well and in 2010, he opened a restaurant called “Mama Pat’s Gumbo and Grill” named after his grandmother, Patricia Freeman Darby, who used to cook in the city’s jazz clubs.
Freeman’s gumbo, taken from his grandmother’s recipe, landed him a licensing deal to sell it frozen in grocery stores. His company had become the first Black-owned instant ramen noodle brand.
However, Freeman thought of a much healthier ramen than what other competitors sold. Reportedly, ramen noodles are typically high in sodium, and eating too much of it has been linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health issues.
The very health conscious Freeman made an instant ramen product that would be a low-sodium and salt-free alternative using a secret recipe combination of spices.
His Ramen noodles offers flavors like Lamb Stew, Chicken Fajita, Seafood Gumbo, and Chicken Taco and his first distributor was several commissaries licensed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and privatized jails.
As an ex-convict, Freeman who is also known as “Chef Ron” hires ex-felons because they struggle to find jobs after being released from prison. “I’m going to hire people like me that are just hungry, wants to do something with their lives, I wanna give them a shot,” he said.
Re-counting his imprisonment as a wake-up call, Freeman’s aim is to improve the lives of the 2.2 million people in U.S jails.
Freeman and his business partner, Dave Taylor, hope that Mama Pat’s will take over the correctional market and eventually replace Maruchan and Nissin ramen.
His company supplies instant ramen noodles to various parts of the United States and also internationally to Canada and several African nations