***All entree rewards at all pledge levels will be doubled upon completion of this project if it hits its funding goal***(does not affect bumper stickers or catering rewards)
How many of you have ever had Dim Sum? My guess would be that not a lot of people even know what Dim Sum is as many Americans only familiarity with Chinese food is what we order from take-out stores. I was never formally introduce to Dim Sum until I moved to Boston in 2007. My first experience was at an amazing restaurant called Dumpling Cafe. Char Siu Bau (pork buns), Siu Long Bau (soup dumplings with the soup inside the dumpling) and many other treats they offer opened my eyes to the world of authentic Dim Sum cuisine. Dim Sum, when translated, means "Touch the Heart," and after having real Dim Sum for the first time you will understand why.
It's easy to see why this particular cuisine has not flourished in the US unlike its fast food counterparts. Many of the items require a lot of attention to make and cook correctly, but it offers such a large experience that can't be narrowed down to one type of food item. Most of you have probably encountered a dumpling or two either in a restaurant or at your local grocery store, but those run of the mill dumplings can't hold a candle to real and authentic dumplings like Har Gow (Prawn/Shrimp Dumplings), Fun Guo (Pork, Chive, and Peanut Dumpling), or Siu Mai (an open topped dumpling usually made of pork or chicken).
Once you have real Dim Sum it becomes really hard to go back to fast food and frozen items. While a Char Siu Bao (Sweet Bun with BBQ pork inside) might sound intimidating, I promise you that after you try one you will want more. And all of these items are not limited to meat fillings: you could easily sub/add mushrooms, zucchini, squash, carrots, asparagus, bok choy, etc. I plan on always offering at least one type of vegetarian dumpling/bun at all times.
Another important thing about Dim Sum is that it is meant to be enjoyed in social situations. Can't make up your mind on what item you want from the menu? Get some friends together and order two items apiece and then sit down and share all of the items in a communal fashion! Dim Sum is meant to bring people together! Some families in China treat Dim Sum like a family get together where whole neighborhoods turn out to enjoy tea, food, and each other in a very relaxed environment.
Tea is also a very important part of Dim Sum. Eating Dim Sum in a restaurant setting is known as Yum Cha, or Drink Tea, and what type of tea you would like to drink is often the waiter's first question. From the typical and familiar Green Tea to Oolong to Bo-Lei: tea is as much a part of Dim Sum as the food. This is not to say that one tea is better when eating certain items, but it is meant to mean that the act of drinking tea, which is seen as a relaxing and invigorating activity, works hand in hand with the contentment and satisfaction derived from Dim Sum.
So, enough about what Dim Sum is and onto what it is going to be for the Charleston area! My inspiration for pursuing this particular dream combination of Dim Sum and a food truck came from my time spent in Los Angeles this past summer (2013). I was out there for a non-food based internship and really took notice of how many food trucks there are and how wide the variety is, even between trucks touting the same cuisine. As I tried truck after truck, I always felt that there was something missing, some cuisine I couldn't quite place that my palate was craving.
This is when I discovered the delicious menu of my favorite restaurant: Cholada. If you are from the South Carolina coast then you will understand what I mean by "arrogantly shabby." From the outside Cholada does not appear to be anything more than a run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant that also offers take-out. But once you step inside and see and smell the food you will be hooked! They offer so many great appetizers that I never actually ordered a single entree any time I went there. From Kanom Jeep to Golden Bags, every little savory item makes your mouth water and your stomach quiver.
How could something so small be so filling and delicious? How has somebody not thought to do a food truck based on these smaller but filling items? In all of my searching since this project started I have only found two trucks that focus on this great cuisine: Chirba Chirba and Rickshaw Dumplings. As neither of those is anywhere close to SC my craving has continued to grow. What better way to satisfy my craving than by doing it myself so I can also share my love and passion with other people!
Food Trucks have been on the rise over the past couple of years, both in quality and quantity. And since the startup and overhead costs are so low, when compared to starting a brick and mortar restaurant, that only increases my already large margin of success. While you can easily find articles about what people love about food trucks, it is a little harder to peg down what people don't like.
In order to improve my odds of success I need to know what turns people away from food trucks, and what causes people to not become repeat customers. In all of my research, both online and at food truck rodeos, the number one complaint I have heard is that it takes too long to get your food. What some people fail to realize is that most food trucks still have to "cook to order" every item on their menu. You wouldn't want a hamburger patty that was cooked a couple of hours ago, or a burrito made the previous day, so it takes time to cook, plate, and deliver those items to the customer. How can I avoid this complaint and therefore elevate my truck above my competition?
The cuisine takes care of this problem: Dim Sum items can all be steamed, and I can always have fresh steamed items ready to go at any time. Keeping prepared food in steamer stacks using bamboo steamers allows the food to be fully cooked and still remain moist and fresh because they never get a chance to dry out. My goal is to have a turnaround time of less than a minute: take your order, pull items from steam stack, package/plate items, add additional condiments and done. Because the steam stacks will be visible to the passing public you can either order directly off the menu or just point at an item that has caught your eye. This process will allow for one of the quickest turnarounds in the food truck industry. Even if you go to a Dim Sum restaurant you have to wait for the waiters to bring around the steam carts, and depending on how busy the restaurant is that can take a while.
Another nice feature of Dim Sum is that experimentation is encouraged and fostered. I would love to feature local crab and shrimp in a new and unique dumpling or bun. I'll have a special suggestion spot on my site where you can suggest recipe items or themes, and I'll do my best to make that idea a reality. I'm going to post polls for people to vote for their favorite items, vote for their favorite textures, and vote for their favorite teas. Having such an unrestricted, yet simple, menu will afford me the opportunity to tailor my menu to your palates and cravings.
So, after having written that wall of text, let's move on to what this Kickstarter campaign is all about: getting you involved and raising money!
I think it is only fair for me to lay all of my cards on the table about what money has already been spent, why I need your help, and where every dollar will go. To date I have already spent around $40k out of my own pocket. The majority of that money has been spent on necessary big ticket items - the trip to Hong Kong so I can attend a special cooking school, website design and hosting, the truck, kitchen hardware, and awesome future-proof POS system that automatically tracks returning customers so I can give them discounts.
So, what do I still need money for? I'm taking care of all the equipment and all I need is $15k to cover the fabrication costs. That's it! I don't have all of the equipment purchased yet, but after working very hard these past two weeks with Gorilla Fabrications to finalize the design, I will be able to start making more kitchen equipment purchases in the near future so Bill and the other great guys at Gorilla Fabrication can get to work!
I want to make sure I am providing all of you with the most value for your support. I have offered a range of donation levels that give you a lot of value and a reason to come visit the truck once it is up and running. Remember, Kickstarter won't actually charge you anything unless I succeed.
While I am in Hong Kong I will be doing my best to provide an update everyday: offering pictures of my classes, the city, the work being done on the truck, etc. If you want to support me but don't wish to receive the updates you can always opt-out of them through a link in the emails you get. I understand that some people prefer not to get bombarded after they have already supported a project and I respect your decision.
I would like to say thank you to a lot of people that have helped me to get to this point:
MarthaSherpa.com - for imparting on me the wisdom to bring Dim Sum to Charleston, SC
Superior Internet - for helping me design and build a great website
ChefUniforms.com - for really great deals on my uniforms
Gorilla Fabrications - for working closely with me to make sure that this project will succeed and be amazing
Jacob Zunker - for helping me to design my logo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To my friends and family that have provided priceless feedback and always believed in my passion and abilities!
To Keith and Jade Knapp - for agreeing to help me make sure my truck is culturally correct, and for providing invaluable insight on Chinese culture
To all of my cousins - we all share the same love of family, and we have always supported each other through the good and bad times, thank you for your never ending support!
To Gary, Paula, Brian, and Lisa - thank you for hosting me during my trip to Charlotte and for providing such great ideas and tips - some things just can't be taught, they must be transferred through experiences, and you guys provided me with a lot of great experiences!
To my parents and brother - words could not show how much love and support you have given me throughout my life. The road may have been rough at times, but without a little conflict in our lives we would never truly appreciate the ability to love and forgive. I was truly blessed at birth when you adopted me and became my lifelong guides through life. I can never say it enough, but I love you both so much!
Risks and challenges
I just finished my MBA with Suffolk University, have spent most of my professional life in a customer service role, and have always succeeded at every job I have worked. This business will be no different! From perfecting the menu by training on how to make Dim Sum from a Hong Kong native and master chef to designing an appealing and crowd-drawing truck; every detail has been hashed out with private and public feedback.
The main risk here is that the menu and cuisine don't catch on. I am going to push as hard as I can to expand local palates, but as the saying goes "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink." But, I believe that the truck will succeed because of the big and small things that set it apart:
Things that will help reduce the risk of failure:
1. Because all of the food is steamed I can always have steam stacks going and the food will be ready when you order, not 5-10 minutes later
2. There is no truck or restaurant in this area that will offer the same cuisine I will be serving
3. My items will be tasty, filling, healthy, and reasonably priced
If you know me, and have heard me talk at all about this project, then you understand the passion and care that I am putting into this project to make sure it succeeds.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
One entree is either three dumplings or two buns, regardless of the fillings
I am planning on having three constant dumplings and one bun always be the same, and then I will add in one or two unique dumplings every week and one unique bun type every couple of weeks. But this is all up for change based on sales data and popularity of certain recipes.
I am in the process of scouting out locations at the moment but I plan to have at least one lunch in North Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, and Daniel Island. I will also have a request box on my site when I am closer to opening so you can request that I come visit certain locations.
Lunch shifts will usually be from 11:30 to 1:30, but I am also looking into doing some dinner shifts in certain neighborhoods and parks. Just like the special request locations, if you have an idea for a special time and place and I can make it happen I will!
I'm going to try and do as much as I can as often as I can! I'm looking into some special themed events for just my truck, but I am also looking into getting some regular multi-truck events going as well!
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