Wednesdays With Mimi Chengs

Photography via Vanessa Granda

There’s nothing better than a meal shared with loved ones. That truth has guided sisters Marian and Hannah Cheng through the concept, planning, and execution of their wildly successful dumpling restaurant, Mimi Cheng’s. When Marian and Hannah were unable to find dumplings in Manhattan that matched the quality of their mother’s, they decided to bring a taste of home to their adopted city, and Mimi Cheng’s was born. Throughout the new restaurant’s impressive run, Marian and Hannah have paid homage to their mother (nicknamed Mimi) through an inspired pairing of business sense, style, and honest-to-goodness recipes. Every guest is treated like family, and Mimi Cheng’s is truly an extension of home.

We caught up with the savvy sisters at their cozy East Village shop and talked skincare, business, and good eats. Meet Marian (left) and Hannah Cheng (right).


Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

rapid fire

Hometown:

Bardonia, NY

Current Location:

New York, NY

Must-have item in Mimi Cheng’s:

The Mimi Cheng, which is how we got here in the first place. It started one summer when we were in middle school. Our mom came home from her friend’s backyard garden with a huge box of freshly picked zucchini. She shredded them into organic chicken dumplings, and we requested that she only make those dumplings going forward. They are so light, juicy, and delicate.

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Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Pan-fried or boiled dumplings:

This is such a difficult question for us. Both are delicious in their own way. If this were our last meal though, we would be chowing down on pan-fried dumplings for sure.

Go-to summer beauty regime:

Since we live together, we share a lot of our beauty products. For the AM, we like to use Glossier’s face wash followed by a mist of our own rose water concoction, which has drops of different essential oils, before putting on moisturizer. Andalou’s rose facial lotion is great because it’s lightweight with SPF. You can find it at most grocery stores. Fragrance is always used very subtly, a dab of essential rose oil and orange blossom. This smell brings back memories of a Bali trip.

In the PM, we use a natural honey-based facial wash that we discovered in upstate NY. A good friend swears by putting raw honey on any bug bites or pimples. This is followed by a generous pat of organic avocado oil on our faces to sleep in. It would be too greasy to wear around all day but it’s wonderful overnight since your skin gets a chance to soak up all the vitamins. Our aunt, who is in her 50s, looks like she’s 30 and this is her secret trick.

Currently craving:

Spicy Asian noodles and authentic tacos.  We love adding our house made garlic chili oil to the Dan Dan noodles. For tacos, we always go to Los Tacos Number 1 in Chelsea Market. Their flour tortillas are so thin, reminds us of the tacos we had in Mexico. The Very Fresh Noodles stand in Chelsea market is also great if we’re not near our own restaurant. Get the Sichuan Beef Noodle Soup extra spicy.

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Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Best way to beat the summer heat?

We’d preferably be found lounging in a swimming hole in the Catskills with a fresh pie waiting for us back at the house. The water is mountain runoff and ice cold. If we’re in the city, then ice cream cones from Odd Fellows. They make their own sugar waffle cones, which you can smell a mile away, and their ice cream flavors are unique. Olive oil, miso cherry, passion fruit are some of our favorites.

Best cocktail you’ve had in NYC:

The pistachio cocktail at ZZ Clam bar. Generally, we’re pretty straight forward when it comes to drinks. Bulleit whiskey on the rocks in the winter or a delicious bottle of red wine. Rose in the summer. Most cocktails seem to be too sweet for us.

and the rest

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Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Tell us your roles and how did the idea of Mimi Cheng’s come about?

Mimi Cheng’s is named after our mom, whose nickname is Mimi. Our earliest memories of dumplings as kids are when the kitchen light would cast a light down the hallway in the late evening when she stayed up wrapping dumplings before she went away so we’d have something healthy to eat. This was a tradition that continued when we went to college and moved to the city. Mom always came to see us with bags upon bags of frozen dumplings and jars of secret sauce. This way she knew we always had something nutritious to eat, because she knew exactly what went into the food since she made it from scratch. Our parents moved to the West Coast a few years ago and the readily available access to Mom’s one of a kind cooking came to an abrupt halt. We went searching for dumplings just like hers but there is no other restaurant serving authentic Taiwanese home cooking made with pasture-raised meat and organic vegetables. Our mom never cut corners in the kitchen. Our parents have always been a bit ahead of the food game, juicing, eating whole grains, growing their own vegetables and herbs, etc. While many other Asian restaurants are out to make a quick and cheap buck, we still subscribe to Mom’s values, only serving what we would serve to our own families and eat ourselves. No short cuts and no junk.

We naturally gravitated towards our different roles. Marian oversees most of the day-to-day operations and initial restaurant build outs. Hannah does most of the behind-the-scenes, handling the finances, social media, and forward-looking strategy. For things that fall between us, we always check with each other.

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Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

What’s it like owning and managing a restaurant with your sister? Do you feel the dynamic of your relationship influences the restaurant when it comes to making decisions, recipes, etc?

There’s less dancing around what you really want to say when it comes to working with your sister. We can be completely transparent and direct. Luckily, we have the same vision and aesthetic so we rarely disagree. We love to eat the same foods so creating the recipes is usually seamless. There are of course a few occasions when we retrogress into our sibling dynamics but we always try to be professional.

How would you say Mimi Cheng’s dumplings are set apart from others in NYC?

It sounds cheesy but the first ingredient in our food is love. We strongly believe that you can taste the difference between food made by someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking and someone who loves it. The next major difference is the produce quality. We strongly believe that we are what we eat. For example, our pork is pasture-raised on family farms in Kingston, NY; the farms look like what you would expect a farm to look like, not a factory. The amount of confusing food labels is dizzying these days. We always focus on growing methods and not only the label. There are some great farms that are growing food using methods that are better than organic but cannot afford to be certified organic.

You have previously partnered with By CHLOE. by creating the Guac Burger Dumpling. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came to be and are you hoping to collab with other restaurants in the future?

Sam Wasser, one of the partners of By Chloe, is a regular at Mimi Cheng’s and loved our collabs. She approached us about doing one with By Chloe, which we thought would be a great fit and give the vegan community a chance to try Mimi Cheng’s. We always get the Guac Burger when we go to By Chloe so it was an obvious choice. We certainly hope to collab with other restaurants in the future. We’re always drawn to other food establishments that are making creative and delicious food.

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Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Besides learning how to cook dumplings, were there any other key lessons you’ve learned from your mama that you used for your business or everyday life?

Mama always knows best. The first is to treat everyone like family. Mom has a special way of making anyone feel special, cared for, and the most important. We always strive to do this and that’s why we have an amazing team. When we look around, there are many smiling faces, who have been with us since the beginning. The second is to take care of a task right away or as soon as you can. Don’t procrastinate. This way you are never rushing around and scrambling later.

Marian: You used to work in the fashion industry for companies such as Dolce & Gabbana. Did you take anything away from the experience to use for Mimi Cheng’s?

I worked in wholesale, which involved budgeting, forecasting, and developing relationships. That is all relevant for Mimi Cheng’s. There is something to be learned from every experience.

While you both came from completely different backgrounds, did you guys do anything to prep or have any mentors to help with opening a restaurant for the first time?

We have to give a huge thank you to our good friend Nic Jammet (Sweetgreen). It’s important to surround yourself with friends who will believe in you and encourage you every step of the way. Nic is that kind of standup friend. He was the first one we told about Mimi Cheng’s and he believed in us since day 1. He also smartly suggested that we get restaurant experience first since neither of us had any. Sweetgreen Nomad was opening around this time so Marian was able to work there for several months to learn. Our friend Luke Holden (Luke’s Lobster) has also always been a great sounding board. Both are friends from Georgetown.

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Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

While opening Mimi Cheng’s was sort of your first experience with the hospitality industry, was there anything that you’ve experienced that you weren’t expecting to deal with?

The hardest part of the hospitality industry by far is navigating different types of people. People come in happy, sad, angry, the whole range of emotions. Even if we’re not having the best day, we have to greet each of our customers like we’ve having the best day ever. We’re grateful that we get to do what we love everyday so we take everything in stride. It’s truly a blessing that our customers will spend their precious time and hard-earned money with us, and this is never lost on us. We love that our customers find Mimi Cheng’s to be a welcoming environment where they can come rest and enjoy a home-cooked meal.

Best way to start a productive day?

Wake up early, drink a cold brew matcha, sit and meditate for a few minutes. It’s important to quiet your mind and soul before the world gets noisy and you get busy.

Hannah: Why did you feel it was important to name the restaurant after your mother?

It’s always important to show honor and respect where it’s due. Not only are we using her recipes, we are essentially welcoming people into our home and kitchen and our Mom is the one who taught us that true hospitality is making another feel like they are part of the family and welcomed at the dinner table.

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What’s your philosophy when choosing the right staff for your restaurant?

One of the coolest things is seeing our team culture grow organically and seeing our team members protect that culture. We believe in good vibes only and it’s a gut feeling. A new member doesn’t have to be perfect on paper but he/she has to have a good attitude and show a penchant for learning and excelling. New applicants go through trials and the rest of the team decides if they should be brought on or not.

If you can sit and have a drink with anyone, anywhere, who and where would that be?

It would be our mom’s father. He was a general in the Taiwanese army during the Chinese Civil War. He passed away before we were born. He must have some incredible stories. We’d be happy to meet him anywhere!

Where do you hope to see Mimi Cheng’s in the next few years?

Our vision is a handful of happily thriving Mimi Cheng’s sprinkled around Manhattan.

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Feeling hungry? Stop by Mimi Cheng’s original East Village location, at 179 Second Ave, and stay tuned for the opening of their Broome Street outpost, coming soon. 


Anya

Photography by Vanessa Granda

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