Many restaurants had to rethink their strategy when COVID-19 forced them to close their doors. As a result, many eateries shut down for good. Some restaurants, on the other hand, came up with innovative ways to keep their businesses afloat, with consumers continuing to enjoy their products. We recently interviewed Xiao Chi Jie owners, Jennifer Liao and Caleb Wang, to document their inspiring and creative story.
Xiao Chi Jie, a Chinese street food restaurant, opened in 2018 at Soma Towers. The business partners wanted to bring the depth and diversity of Chinese cuisine to Bellevue. Featuring Sheng Jian Bao, Jian Bing, bowls, sides, and bubble tea, the eatery quickly became a popular spot to visit.
Owners, Jennifer Liao and Caleb Wang, wanted to showcase and preserve the food that they had grown up eating as second-generation Chinese Americans. They remember savoring delicious Chinese dishes when they would visit their parents’ home towns, but found it difficult to find great versions of them in the U.S.
Their restaurant operated for one and a half years before the pandemic hit.
According to Liao and Wang, their premiere restaurant product is the Sheng Jing Bao, which is a pan-fried soup dumpling. They knew that the best way to stay connected to their customers was to start freezing them to make them available for purchase. As they tried to freeze this product, they realized that steamed dumplings were better suited for freezing (and takeout) than pan-fried dumplings. Once these became available, they were very well-received and people started reaching out to them from across the country asking if they would ship their dumplings.
They saw the need for this product as it is not an easy item to find in the United States. As a completely new venture for Xiao Chi Jie owners, they decided to jump in after seeing the need.
They received immediate support from their local loyal customers. Jennifer Liao’s mom started a WeChat group to spread the word, and that drove 80% of sales in the early days. Facebook groups were also a huge help.
As of 2021, Liao and Wang expanded to Auburn to make the dumplings at a larger facility instead of out of the kitchen of their Bellevue restaurant. This helped them to keep up with local demand. They now stock their warehouse to be able to reach customers around the country reliably.
The philosophy of Liao and Wang is that they want to make cuisine that passes the bar for people who natively grew up with these types of foods, and also make their products approachable and accessible enough for anyone to try them and regularly eat them without compromising on flavors and tastes.
Consumers can purchase Xiao Long Bao at their restaurant, Xiao Chi Jie, located at Soma Towers, or via their online shop for delivery.