Jen Liao and Caleb Wang are second-generation Chinese language Individuals, and the husband and spouse crew first opened Xiao Chi Jie (XCJ) as a single restaurant serving Chinese language avenue meals in Seattle’s Bellevue neighborhood in 2018. The title Xiao Chi Jie interprets to “avenue meals avenue” in English.
The pair say that opening XCJ helped them join with their household historical past and domesticate delight of their Chinese language id, although they’ll readily admit that no less than a part of their motivation behind beginning a Chinese language restaurant was so they may eat their favourite meals on a regular basis.
In March 2020, confronted with a looming pandemic, XCJ was pressured to shut indoor eating and pivot. Wang stop his full-time job in finance to focus all of his time and power on serving to XCJ survive. Nonetheless, xiaolongbao soup dumplings aren’t well-suited for takeout. There’s a purpose they’re served contemporary in a bamboo steamer on the restaurant—no person needs chilly and congealed dumplings.
“We knew one of the best ways to keep linked to our prospects and hold our employees employed was to begin freezing our dumplings,” Liao says. They started by making simply 20 baggage of dumplings a day for native supply and offered out day by day. Fairly quickly they’d individuals reaching out on-line clamoring for nationwide delivery.
Liao and Wang scoured Asian supermarkets and American grocery retailer aisles and located that the majority dumplings had been mass manufactured, pre-cooked (which negatively impacts dough integrity and the general taste profile) and microwaveable, as a result of steaming was thought-about “too overseas” or too troublesome for the typical client. This was their lightbulb second: they knew they may make a greater product and noticed there was a requirement for high-quality, genuine Chinese language meals for a direct-to-consumer market.
“There’s traditionally been a scarcity of truthfully represented Chinese language meals,” Liao says. “When the typical particular person within the U.S. thinks about Chinese language meals, it tends to be Americanized dishes created to suit the Western palate. Americanized dishes are scrumptious, however increasingly more people have moved to understand sincere representations throughout many various cuisines, and are searching for these experiences out.”
The R&D course of for creating the right frozen dumpling was difficult and meticulous. They examined and retested each ingredient of the recipe numerous instances to find out one of the best dough-to-filling ratio, kind of floor meat, soup content material, freezing method and optimizing the elasticity of the dough if the patron oversteams their dumplings at dwelling.
XCJ’s branding is cheeky and fashionable, with a enjoyable social media presence and earnest customer support. If there have been any delivery points and dumplings arrived in lower than excellent situation, a brand new batch could be on the way in which instantly. By the tip of 2020, they’d despatched 800,000 soup dumplings to houses nationwide in all 50 states. By the tip of 2021, that quantity reached 4 million, with a employees of 15 making tons of of luggage of dumplings every morning. The recipe has gone by means of many tweaks alongside the way in which to create one of the best at-home expertise.
“Even the dough itself has gone by means of numerous iterations to ensure it’s skinny sufficient, holds up throughout each freezing in addition to dry ice delivery, and principally doesn’t leak at dwelling,” Liao says. “Regardless of scaling up, now we have made it an crucial level to not change any of the processes that made the unique model nice—issues like contemporary dough and filling each morning and retaining the batch dimension small so that there’s a good mixture of soup in every dumpling has been necessary.”
Enterprise tripled from Q3 to This fall in 2021, after shifting manufacturing to a bigger facility, and Wang says they need to triple once more in 2022. To assist management product high quality and handle frozen logistics, they’ve a number of distribution hubs throughout the nation, however every dumpling is made by hand in Seattle. Xiao Chi Jie nonetheless operates one small counter service quick informal restaurant in a mini meals court docket with communal seating, however their direct-to-consumer enterprise brings in 10 instances the income.
“We need to be the go-to fashionable Chinese language meals model,” he says. “Broadly talking, should you look again a couple of years, there was no best-in-class Chinese language meals for this specific area of interest within the CPG world. And now you’re actually seeing that broaden, pushed by buyer demand for genuine and truthfully represented meals. We need to meet that demand and produce you thrilling flavors for some meals that you might have heard of, like soup dumplings, but in addition dishes that you simply’ve by no means heard of, like lesser-known sorts of noodles or Chinese language BBQ.”
This yr, they’re planning to broaden their product portfolio, together with vegetarian and gluten-free choices to be as inclusive as attainable. The following product they’re planning to launch is frozen dan dan mian, a standard Szechuan noodle dish made with a numbing mala spice. Many variations discovered within the U.S. are soy sauce-based or a little bit sweeter to cater to the American palate, however XCJ is reviving the standard taste profile.
“A primary part of broadening publicity for all people no matter familiarity or background is training and consciousness, so we’ll be working arduous on that this yr,” Liao says. “We all the time welcome questions from all of our prospects and skim all of our direct messages to know the place we could have gaps. As third tradition children, we’re in a lucky place to behave as a bridge and useful resource between cultures and we’re excited to discover how Asian American meals developed by Asians evolves.”
Images courtesy of XCJ