Take a good look around when you check out the new counter service outpost of Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Nolita — that food, decor, and vibe may soon be replicated all across New York. The historic dim sum restaurant’s new fast casual location at 10 Kenmare Street is the testing ground for a whole slew of new, all-day dim sum restaurants, according to general manager Zhiyu Lai. In the next few years, owner Wilson Tang plans on opening anywhere from two to four more locations in the city, with an eye toward neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City, and Astoria. If all goes well in New York, the team wants to open elsewhere, too, perhaps in California. "This is working out better than we expected," Lai says of the new location. "It’s a good thing."
Nom Wah’s original location in Chinatown is one of Manhattan’s oldest restaurants, and when Tang came on board in 2010, he revamped it and attracted a new generation of diners. But Nom Wah Nolita is different. Although its menu features the top seven dim sum items from the original location, like shrimp dumplings and shrimp and pork shumai, it’s not supposed to be a direct replica. "We’re not trying to do really authentic food," says chef Calvin Eng. "We’re trying to do new Chinese food."
So far, the noodle soup, which has a vegan broth, has been selling the best, Lai says. Other options include a char siu glazed steam rib and a smoked chicken leg with ginger scallion sauce. Eng plans to switch up the menu later on to "push the limits on fast casual." All of it will have a southern Chinese bent. "Fast casual get a bad rep for scooping shit into bowls or scooping shit into plates," he says. "We’re trying not to do that. We’re making things to order, garnishing it, plating it."
To help with the cost of expanding, none of the new Nom Wah locations will have wait service — or even that many human cashiers. Lai expects most customers to order with iPads instead of with a person. The Nolita location has two screens set up near the counter for self-service ordering. "We’d rather put that money into quality food," Lai says. Of course, he’s still on hand to answer any questions and take orders for people who want to talk to a human, but so far, he’s found that repeat customers will skip the line and go straight to the iPads. "It’s more fast service," Lai says.
It’s also positioned to be a place to get dim sum later at night, Lai adds. The Nolita locations has a big screen TV in the small dining room, intended to show football games or political debates while people eat. The restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday — a couple hours later than the original location.
The team still considers the Nolita location to be in soft opening mode as they work the kinks out. But it’s been busy for lunch and dinner since they opened, and once they decide to get going on the expansion plan, it won’t be too burdensome, Lai says. "All we need is a kitchen," he says. "As far as overhead, we don’t have to worry about waiters, waitresses. Over time, we noticed, it’s just easier that way to help yourself." See photos of Nom Wah Nolita below, and if you stop by, let us know what you think.