In conversation with the DumplingDudez™!
By Jennifer Kapral
If you’re fortunate enough to live in Houston, you can eat a lot of dumplings. Houstonians devour them in all forms… steamed, pan-fried, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese. The options are endless. But what about Japanese pumpkin pie dumplings? Or Cheesesteak? DumplingDudez™ opened their business in EaDo in 2019. If you drive through the area, signs of Houston’s old Chinatown mix with artist studios, nightclubs, breweries, and stadiums. It’s in this heart of EaDO where Mike and Chih turned their passion for dumplings into a small business, DumplingDudez™.
Experimental flavors meet traditional techniques as Mike and Chih turn dumplings into fun, engaging, and interactive experiences that build community. Houstonians have fallen in love with the couple’s energy and passion for their business, and many (myself included) routinely drive from all over the city to pick up the newest batches and flavors of dumplings. I particularly appreciate the vegan options!
I talked with Mike and Chih to learn more about the roots of their business and the creativity that is infused in all of their initiatives. We invite you to learn more about this dynamic couple and the impact their life experiences have had on their business.
Tell us about your journey in starting DumplingDudez™.
We (Mike and Chih) worked in the oil & gas industry as engineers for 15 years. From the outside, it would seem that we had the perfect American Dream life. However, we were so busy building dreams for others, we forgot how to dream ourselves. We were comfortable, but we weren’t fulfilled. We wanted more out of life, and we were willing to risk it all to follow our dreams and pursue our passions. On April 1st, 2019, we did it! We both quit our jobs and DumplingDudez™ was born. At first glance, most people would assume that we are a food start-up, but we consider ourselves to be an experiential start-up. “Creating fun and unique experiences” has always been our “WHY”. From dumpling making experience, corporate/private event, dumpling and drink pairing to our frozen dumplings pick-up, we took an artistic and creative approach to make the whole experience our number one priority!
How do you find inspiration for the different flavors and varieties of dumplings you offer?
Each dumpling tells a story, and each story is an experience worth sharing with someone you love. Each of our dumpling flavor comes with a story that bring us joy! We have taken inspiration from all around us and the experiences that have made impacts on our lives. Just like our backgrounds are diverse, we hope this comes through in our food. For instance, one of our most popular flavors is our Tradish-Delish. This recipe is a traditional pork and shiitake mushroom mix with aromatic garlic chive, that finishes with a unique Chinese BBQ sauce. This recipe was passed down from Chih's Grandmother. He used to make dumplings with her when he was younger. One of our fondest memories was when Mike had the chance to meet her for the first time, making dumplings, before she passed away. The second most popular is our Chorizo Mac. The name says it all. Gooey Cheese, and warm delicious chorizo make this a fan favorite. We have been called Mac & Cheese by our friends for so long we ended up having a mac & cheese competition. This recipe was made for this event, and went over so well it has become a staple in our house. So, why not in a dumpling? A third example is our Vegan Curry Mash. So much goes into this dumpling. It is truly vegan down to the butter we use. The smooth potato, bright vegetables, and warm aromatic spices makes this a perfect comfort food for any foodie. Mike found inspiration from his travels to India when he was an engineer. The culinary experience in India really elevated Mike’s perspective on delicious and creative vegan food! Lastly, we get inspiration from our staff. Recently, we have come out with an H-Town Cheese Steak, Japanese Pumpkin Pie with homemade caramel inside, Apple and Asian Pear Pie, and more…
You’ve been extremely creative in developing new business ideas during COVID times. Tell us about some of the partners you’ve worked with and events you’ve offered.
As mentioned, we started as an Experiential Space. We hosted cooking classes in our home. We taught how to make colorful dough, using all-natural dyes. In addition to that we taught how to traditionally roll out dumpling wrappers, and how to traditionally fold as well. Then we kicked it up a notch and created some unique folds such as Totoro, Baby Yoda, Hello Kitty, Astros...etc. You name it and we would try it. After, we taught how to cook, pan fry, and enjoy. It was a memorable social event. We had really found what we were looking for. When Covid hit, we were preparing for our biggest month since we’ve opened our doors. We had some products around that we were preparing for some festivals, and we were all shutdown. We turned to our followers, and asked if anyone would be interested in picking some up for themselves. The response was overwhelming. We sold out in a matter of minutes. We started with about 60 dozen that week, and have had weeks where we make 200 dozen a week. The overwhelming support kept us afloat so that we were able to pay for our kitchen, health insurance, and keep our staff on the payroll. Since all the Pride events were cancelled during June, we released a Rainbow Dumpling pack with 50 percent of the net proceeds donated to Out Reach United and Montrose Center that support LGBT homeless youth and elderly. As a pop and pop business, we understand the discrimination and daily struggles that everyone has to go through. It was a dream come true and an honor that our little start up can give back to the community. We are now venturing into the digital space with our Virtual Cooking Classes. In addition, we have worked with Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in a virtual Beer & Dumpling tasting though Instagram Live. We had such a great response that we are planning another one soon. We are working with Houston Cider Company on a special Apple Pie dumpling that uses their cider in the recipe. We were able to incorporate cider into our dumpling dough for the very first time. We also teamed up with Walking Stick Brewing Co. as our dumpling pick up location, to drive traffic to the sale of their charity beer that supports additional businesses who work with them. We are always on the hunt for new ideas and pairings. We currently are also working on wine and dumpling pairings. We are excited to see who else we can pair up with as we enjoy supporting local companies. We are all in this difficult time together, and we are doing everything we can to help support one another.
We know you’ve traveled quite extensively. Tell us about your favorite food experience during your travels.
We love to travel! We love to eat food from all over the world. One of our favorite places has been Taiwan. What an amazing place for food. One of our favorite lines we read in a book about Taiwan was," If you are not talking about the food you are eating, you are talking about what you had earlier, or what you are going to eat later." Now, this is an exaggeration, but only just slightly. There is food around every turn. When we travel there, the highlight of our trips has been to visit the local night markets and taste what the latest craze is, and to visit the vendors who have been there for generations. I know these trips were the real catalyst that got DumplingDudez™ started, we just didn't know it yet.