Bringing Bite-Sized Love to NYC | Hannah & Marian Cheng of Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings
DateDecember 27, 2016
Stressing the importance of freshness and going against the idea of “quantity at the expense of quality,” Hannah and Marian Cheng have spent years perfecting homemade recipes to bring us some of the best dumplings out there. The sisters took a risk, both making major career changes to open up Mimi Cheng’s, a dumpling restaurant named after their mother and OG dumpling expert. Their passion, dedication, and genuine care for their customers’ wellbeing has certainly paid off. See the interview below to read about sharing a family tradition, one that is near and dear to their hearts, with their community.
Your mom was reluctant to give you the recipe for her secret sauce at first, what finally convinced her to hand it over?
We were opening a restaurant!
You guys have mentioned that when you originally told your parents about your decision to open a restaurant, it was their worst nightmare. How do they feel about it now?
They think it’s our greatest accomplishment yet. Once they saw how determined we were to open a restaurant and that there was no convincing us otherwise, our parents threw 110% support behind us. They ended up spending three months in NYC to help us open the restaurant when they had originally planned on staying for two weeks.
Was the transition from the fashion/financial industries into the food industry difficult?
The transition had both sides of the coin to it. On one hand, we had no idea what we were doing, but that also allowed us to have an open mind in order to come up with new solutions for typical problems. On the other hand, everything was trial by fire, which is a quick teacher.
What were the steps that you took to perfect your recipes and open a restaurant?
We did many hours of recipe testing to tweak and refine our recipes. Scaling recipes to be consistent day in and day out is very different to cooking at home with our mom, where everything is measured out by a sixth sense and not measuring spoons or a scale.
You place a lot of emphasis on homeliness in your cooking and restaurant aesthetic. Why is this so important to you?
Through cooking with our mom’s recipes, we are opening the doors of our private lives at home by sharing a piece of our family with our community. The idea of Mimi Cheng’s also came out of our own cravings when our parents moved to the West Coast. These days, there is a lot of emphasis placed on “faster” and “more,” and we’re doing the opposite by cooking from scratch and wrapping dumplings by hand. We adhere to the value that it’s important to slow down and carve out time in our lives to have those human interactions that we all need and crave. Sitting down for a proper home-cooked meal is good for the body and the soul.
Mimi Cheng’s has a limited – but delicious – menu, do you have any plans of expanding it?
We purposely keep our menu very limited so that everything is fresh, fresh, and fresh. We make everything from scratch on a daily basis, so the curated menu allows us to maintain the quality. We get deliveries every day from our meat and vegetable purveyors, so you know nothing is just sitting in our refrigerators. We also regularly change things on our Other Good Stuff menu based on what we are obsessing over at the time.
“If you have a good relationship with your partner(s), you know that your priorities are in line and you’re working towards the same goal. There’s no hidden agenda.”
In your eyes, what makes an exceptional dumpling?
A chewy and thin skin. The filling should be very fresh with a ton of fresh vegetables. No preservatives, MSG, or chemicals. The meat should be responsibly sourced and not too fatty. The taste should be delicate to let the quality ingredients speak for themselves. The cooking oil should be fresh, clean, and never reused.
You guys are opening up a second location in Nolita! Are there any ways in which that location will differ from the original?
Among our team, we like to call it 2.0 because we think of it as the next progressive step in our journey. It will have many of the favorites, but with a new spin on it. Stay tuned.
You were drawn to Mimi Cheng’s current location because of its sense of community, is there any particular reason you were drawn to Nolita for the second location?
We’ve always loved Nolita ever since Hannah lived there. It’s a classic NYC neighborhood that is always evolving. There are many wonderful independently-owned businesses in the area and so many good restaurants. You can feel the soul and authenticity of these businesses.
How has growing up with a combination of Taiwanese and American culture influenced your dumplings?
We love the classic flavors but are not afraid to be experimental as well. Our specials that change every month give us a chance to get crazy with flavors. To name a few past examples, our specials have included a breakfast dumpling with Sir Kensington’s ketchup, a taco dumpling with homemade pico de gallo, and a delicious burger collaboration with Pizza Loves Emily.
Is mixing family and business ever tough?
Not really. You know what you’re getting into. If you have a good relationship, you know that your priorities are in line and you’re working towards the same goal. There’s no hidden agenda.
What are 3 hidden gems in NYC?
1. Cafe Integral. A new neighbor in Nolita. The space is airy and light, and the drinks are great. They make their own nut milks.
2. Sripraphai in Woodside, Queens. We’ve been going here since it was a hole in the wall, so for about 20 years now. The food is always consistent and spot on.
3. Petee’s Pie Company. They make the best homemade pies ever.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Photos by: Paristoribio