In this column last week, we met The Famous Dumpling Bros food truck owner John Kang and learned about the creative crowdfunding project which engages passionate supporters of small, local businesses to invest in their expansion. Today, in the second of this two-part series, we’ll get a glimpse into what drove this man to food-trucking in the first place.
“You’ve got our chicken and beef dumplings (three of each nestled around and on top of a bed of fried rice). We serve about 8,000 of those every week. And (pointing to a green mixture laced with a hot-looking orange sauce) that is Kimchi, our spicy fermented cabbage,” Kang explained.
I asked about the quarter-sized bright-yellow discs next to the Kimchi. “That is Dikon, a sweet pickled radish. Kimchi is spicy and Dikon is sweet, so you get to enjoy both sensations,” he replied.
“What you are having there is our number one hit, the Dumpling Combo,” Kang went on.
“My dad used to make this for my birthday – exactly what you’re eating now, except for the rice. That’s my own recipe,” he said with a smile.
John Kang was born in America to Korean parents who immigrated here in the 70s during a nation-wide nursing shortage. The U.S. need for nurses was so critical that one Chicago hospital recruited from the Korean hospital where Kang’s mother was a registered nurse. The offer included sponsorship for U.S. citizenship. Kang’s parents and three siblings headed for America.
Baby John with his father and brother
By the time John arrived on the scene, his father was working as an executive restaurant chef in Queens, New York City, where John grew up watching his parents stock their savings to launch his dad’s own successful Korean restaurant.
John was 26 when the 9/11 attacks occurred, an event that uprooted the Kang clan. His parents decided to retire and move to North Dallas, so John took his corporate sales resume on the road to find the place in America that suited him best.
In 2009, fate abruptly changed John’s plans when his father passed away, prompting John to join the rest of the family in North Texas.
“Growing up, I never really paid attention to my dad’s cooking except for his famous dumplings,” John said. “As I grieved over him and missed him, I started making dumplings just for my family and the pleasure of connecting with him.”
“It’s the only thing I remember the ingredients for, because Dad used to make dumplings for us at the house,” John laughed. “Every birthday, there’s dumplings. New Year’s Day: dumplings. Christmas: dumplings. In the Korean tradition, dumplings were for special occasions, and we had a lot of them.”
Over the years, John continued his dad’s tradition of making dumplings for the family and then started sharing them with friends, always to rave reviews. That’s when he started thinking about a food truck.
“I was doing this 9-5 job, which I hated, and every break I had I was googling food trucks, how much does it cost, all this stuff,” John said. “So with zero money in the bank account because everything I had was in this, I started making dumplings, me and my wife doing it all because I couldn’t afford employees. Then we opened, and within six months, I’m like wow, it’s working!”
John is in the midst of expanding the business to a second truck right now through a crowdfunding campaign, with plans to add two more trucks by 2020. And the pot of gold at the end of John’s rainbow? He sees Dumpling Bros famous dumplings in the frozen section of grocery stores across the country.
In a Father’s Day twist to the story, John’s dad lives on through the Famous Dumpling Bros. He passed the dumplings and his dream to his son through tradition and treasured memories, a seed that’s bloomed into the award-winning Denton-based food truck company.
Ah, there’s that word “seed” I promised last week to mention.
Remember how John’s friends at the Freedom House and Zera stepped in to fill the Dumpling Bros’ need for a commissary? Well, guess what Zera means in Hebrew? It means seed, because they are sowing renewed lives (seeds) back into mainstream society. And how is John running his crowdfunding project? Through the platform NextSeed, which invites investors to sow seeds into small businesses like Dumpling Bros.
With all these seeds at work, there’s bound to be a heck of a harvest, one dumpling at time. Mmmm, I think I’ll have another one.