Knoodle Hut Perseveres to Deliver Custom Dishes

HOWLAND, Ohio – Kurt Bush owned a Dairy Queen in Cortland for 27 years, but he wanted to start his own business. Around 2015, he was at the Canfield Fair when he noticed Island Noodles. 

That’s when Bush got the idea to start a fast-casual noodle restaurant, allowing customers to build their meal similar to national chains Subway or Chipotle. The only difference is that rather than offering subs or burritos, Bush would offer noodles.

Five years after that trip to the Canfield Fair, he opened Knoodle Hut in Howland after investing $350,000 into the business.

“That’s a good idea, but everyone’s so picky,” Bush said. “They like the Chipotles, the Subways, the Hot Heads, where you can pick and choose what you want. I just laid it out that way and came up with the Knoodle Hut.”

Bush said the lo mein noodle and teriyaki is among the most popular of the business’ combinations. He said another popular sauce is the bourbon and garlic house sauce.

Customers approach the counter and give their name and order to an employee. The staff begins to add the customer’s choice of vegetables, cheeses, proteins and noodles. Their choice of meat is put into a pan and cooked behind the counter. A couple minutes later, the vegetables, noodles and sauces are added to the pan.

Knoodle Hut owner Kurt Bush has gotten a crash course in running an independent restaurant, opening his new business right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the area.

“I think it’s a good thing for the areas out this way,” Boardman resident Virginia O’Mellan said. “It’d be nice if he could put one out in Boardman.”

Starting a business is stressful. It becomes even more stressful when things don’t seem to go properly before the doors open. Bush found that lesson out the hard way.

Knoodle Hut sits in a newly constructed plaza on state Route 46 and was supposed to open in 2018. Bush was delayed due to Howland zoning issues. There were also issues with plumbing and the roof didn’t arrive on time.

Knoodle Hut was only open for about a month before COVID-19 forced would-be customers to stay indoors. The pandemic forced Bush to cut his employee’s hours, and eventually the staff shrunk to 18 from 28.

The pandemic also increased the prices for his supplies, forcing  Bush to increase the price for his protein options.

“With all the processing plants being shut down, there were times we ran out of steak, times we ran out of pork,” Bush said. “Obviously, anybody who’s gone to the grocery store knows prices have gone sky high on the proteins.”

The pandemic hit the business hard, and Bush said he is concerned about a second wave. He said COVID-19 made it “challenging” to try to build a customer base, but he said more customers are starting to come through the doors. 

“I ran a big promotion just to generate cash flow and keep the kids working, but things kind of leveled off,” Bush said. “A couple kids quit because the hours weren’t enough for them and I’ve had to make a few changes.”

As the old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And Bush thinks every business that survives the pandemic will be stronger, including Knoodle Hut.

“This is just unprecedented,” Bush said. “Being able to run the business in these conditions and making changes that maybe you didn’t want to make, but had to make, maybe changes how you run your business day to day.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.