There are few dining scenes as fiercely competitive and exciting as the one in the Windy City. After all, Bon Appétit named it this year’s restaurant city of the year. But that means it can be hard to stand out in the Chicago catering world. This makes the success of the Yum Dum Truck, a dumpling truck launched by former accountant Jeff Wang in 2013, all the more impressive. Wang’s catering and food truck business sticks to his roots. He operates his hit Chicago catering and food truck business by sticking to his roots, with authentic, home-cooked Chinese food, just like his mom used to make. Remember, dumplings just happen to make for an excellent office lunch. Here, Wang shares his journey with the Yum Dum Truck and offers his best tips for any aspiring catering company.
I am an accountant by trade. But my parents owned restaurants growing up. I was always helping out. They sent me to college probably in the hopes that I wouldn’t open up a restaurant. But as they say: your heart always leads you back to what you know. I did some traveling with friends, had some really great food, and one day we were all lounging outside and one of my buddies was reminiscing about the dumplings in China, lamenting that you couldn’t find those here. I immediately thought, “My mom makes amazing dumplings. I wish there was a way we could get those right now.” So I came up with the idea of doing a dumpling truck. The Yum Dum truck was born.
We usually meet up around 8am, do whatever prep we need to do, and get the truck loaded. Then we go out to our parking spot and serve lunch for a few hours, and complete any catering orders we have. Unlike a lot of other food truck vendors, we are just a food truck. All of the catering and the lunch service comes out of the truck. If it’s a typical day, we’ll head back to the kitchen, unload, and clean up. If we have an event we’ll go back to the kitchen, reload, and then drive over and set up shop. It’s a pretty full day. We have to go wherever we are needed.
I like to call it “mom’s home cooking.” I am not classically trained. Our concept is derived by what I ate growing up. I have always wanted to share that. It’s mom’s home cooking with a refined touch. That’s what separates us from some of the huge places that mass-produce everything.
The Kimcheesy Rice Balls. When I was younger I used to put my mom’s kimchi on top of white rice, add cheese, and then microwave it. At the food truck, we decided to make this dish into rice balls and fry them up. It has really caught on, and there are people now who find us just for the rice balls.
Catering is so important for any food business. It’s the difference between the status quo and growth. Catering has helped us grow our menu and grow our customer base. So often we will have people see our food truck and say: “Oh, we have tried those guys. They cater for our office,” which is really cool. Before we catered, we didn’t know if we could feed 100 people. Now we do catering orders for 250, with way fewer people needed to complete the order than how it was when we started. It has really taught us how to scale up.Catering is the difference between the status quo and growth. Click To Tweet
Practice makes perfect. When we started, we did not nail the orders right away. So we didn’t have a cap or minimum — we could take small or big orders and just use those to practice. Also, presentation and personal touch mean a lot to the customer. As the owner of the business, I have delivered almost 100 percent of our orders. Customers are surprised by that, and it does go a long way. It lets them know they are well taken care of.
There are just so many people in Chicago. There is never a lack of people looking for a place to eat. It is also unique in that there are so many different restaurants and types of cuisine. And people are open to trying them all. There is always a need for food.
I think that catering is going to keep growing. There are always new restaurants. When you look at the Chicago skyline, you see all these skyscrapers filled with people and offices — all of whom need to eat. Catering is an integral part of our company. And in Chicago, there is an endless opportunity.
Try something new. Be adventurous. A lot of people have their regular spots that they like to visit when they go out to eat. Catering is an opportunity where food is brought in for you, so go outside the box, try something different instead of your typical sandwiches.
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