If the new restaurant Dumpling Spot from the Xi’an Famous Foods team seemed like a surprise, that’s because it was.
With the Chinatown location of Xi’an Famous Foods having been at 67 Bayard St., restaurant chain patriarch David Shi secretly opened his own restaurant down the block — without his son and CEO of the company Jason Wang even knowing. It was a Northern Chinese restaurant called Qin Ling at 45 Bayard St., serving skewers, some cold small plates, congee, dumplings, and noodles. The food was similar to what’s served at locations of Xi’an Famous Foods, with a bigger menu. It was an experiment for Shi, who likes to try out new dishes and switch up recipes.
Wang tends to be more cautious and had no idea that his father had opened a new place. At one point, he even saw Qin Ling on the company surveillance camera footage and assumed that the security guy had given him access to someone else’s system. It took a couple weeks for him to realize that it was a family-run restaurant.
By the time Wang figured it out, he and Shi decided that Qin Ling was not going to be a success. (For what it’s worth, the restaurant had five Yelp reviews, all five stars. None of the Yelpers mention that it was run by the Xi’an Famous Foods team.) So they closed it and opted to move one of the chain’s busiest locations down the block into the bigger space at 45 Bayard.
How long the new restaurant Dumpling Spot at 67 Bayard St. will last is to be determined. “It’s really just a pop-up,” Wang says. “A quick idea that we had that we wanted to test out.” It’s not closing anytime soon, but it’s not necessarily a permanent fixture, either.
Qin Ling is not the first time Shi has made changes or even opened a new restaurant under the company without telling his son. “He likes to do things first and then talk about it,” Wang says. “I like to plan things first and then do them.” It often creates tension.
In 2012, Shi opened a secret stall in a Queens food court, without the Xi’an branding and without Wang knowing at first. It has since closed. The next year, he started offering tasting menus at Biang, the company’s full-service restaurant that was then in Flushing, while his son was out of the country. Wang found out when a friend texted him a picture of the menu, which said “teating menu” instead of “tasting.” Wang was not happy about it. “I didn’t know what that was,” he says. “It was so embarrassing.”
His father prefers to not be interviewed, but Wang says while the clashes can be irritating, Shi’s free-wheeling attitude can come in handy. “We have different personalities,” Wang says. “Sometimes, maybe we do need to sort of take some risks — and do some things that I usually wouldn’t be comfortable doing — for the betterment of the business.”
Dumpling Spot is a compromise between Wang’s more cautious business-minded thinking and Shi’s more do-first-think-later approach to food.
They thought of the idea only about a month ago, and the menu took about a week to put together. (Shi wanted 30 menu items. Wang cut it down to 15.) As time goes on, Shi and the rest of the culinary team will be taking more liberties with the menu than at other Xi’an Famous Foods locations. Look for more dumping flavors and steamed buns.
Shi started Xi’an Famous Foods as a food stall in Flushing more than a decade ago. Buoyed by a visit from Anthony Bourdain, the restaurant launched in popularity. Wang joined in 2009 to help turn it into a full-blown local chain. Most recently, they opened a massive new central kitchen in Queens, with an eye on bringing their signature spicy cumin hand-pulled noodles to other cities too.
With the company’s growth, Wang suspects that his father will have a harder time slipping things past him on the operational side. But he doubts that Shi will stop trying, though. “I’m used to it already,” Wang says. “I think it’s yin and yang. Maybe I’m too cautious sometimes.”