Chinese music plays in the small downtown restaurant The Dumpling House and owner Linda Liu sits at a table with a bowl of dumpling contents and a neatly arranged tray of wrapped dumplings — just a sample of the two to three thousand dumplings hand-wrapped every day.
“Most people like a dumpling for the season; a dumpling [is] like a golden nugget, good luck,” Liu said.
With the start of Chinese New Year on Sunday to bring in the Year of the Snake, the dumpling is in high demand.
“This month [we make] 10 [thousand] daily for a special for Chinese New Year. [Customers] eat dumplings for a special celebration. And the Chinese Association always orders a lot of dumplings,” Liu said.
The Dumpling House is conveniently located downtown and has become one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Davis, drawing in students who walk by.
“I was walking on E Street one day and [thought], ‘Hey this place looks good!’” said Arlan Meacher, a fourth-year English major.
Customers, including many students, bring back their family and friends to the Chinese restaurant for a taste of the famous dumplings. Jessica Liu, a third-year human development major, loves going back to The Dumpling House.
“I have gone about twice a year for the three years that I have attended UC Davis … [and] taken my family when they visited, and the other times I go with friends or my roommate,” Jessica said.
The Dumpling House may be small, but it is well-known for its great customer service and fresh ingredients.
“The most important things I do are in the mornings [when I go] shopping by myself to get more fresh food from the produce supply. Because some items are special, some are seasonal and you can’t wait for delivery, we buy things fresh every day,” Linda said.
Linda has worked in the restaurant business for over 30 years and also owns Davis Noodle City, another Chinese restaurant located behind The Dumpling House.
“My husband owned a small famous restaurant in Sacramento; bigger and nice, and after he retired we just kept the restaurant in Davis. [We] love cooking and love to eat. We love to go out to eat too,” Linda said.
Between the two restaurants she has about eight employees. “If you add [a few] part-time workers, probably 12 or 13 [employees],” Linda said.
The owner works around the clock, yet remains happy doing what she loves.
“Even Thanksgiving Day we [are] busy… cook[ing] for the homeless children. We’ve been doing that for over 20 years. We only have one day off a year; that’s Christmas,” Linda said. “[But] I’m happy in Davis, and I love this quiet and small town.”
The Dumpling House gets business from outside of Davis also.
“I also have a lot of business from people in Reno or Tahoe — they stop here on their way down, and then go back,” Linda said.
Linda started The Dumpling House three years after opening Davis Noodle City. She bought the London Fish & Chips restaurant from the owner and after two years of continuing fish and chips, turned the restaurant into The Dumpling House.
Linda travels a couple times a year to China and Taiwan to test all the traditional food and get ideas.
“I always add a new item on the menu. Then I found that the dumpling is very popular, same as [the] noodle, and they also have a chain store over there. I [thought] I should add a dumpling on the menu because it’s very healthy, not oil[y], and [has] vegetable and meat all mixed together,” Linda said. “[The] dumpling is all over — Japan … Korea … Italy. Then I [thought] why don’t I add the dumpling at the Fish & Chips? So I combined them together and it works really [well].”
Dumplings can also be bought frozen for customers to take home.
“Students also buy the frozen dumplings — when they don’t have time, they just study and boil water and can boil dumpling themselves. We sell frozen dumplings for [a] good price and also we have more [choices] than any other restaurant,” Linda said. “Most restaurants [only] have pork and chicken. We have pork, pork chive, chicken, beef, even kimchi, seafood — a lot of different choice[s]. Pork chive [is the most popular].”
Meacher and Jessica enjoy the variety of dumplings offered.
“The pork and chive potstickers are my favorite item off the menu,” Jessica said. “I also enjoy their green onion pancakes just because it is something that my dad and grandma used to make with my sister and I when we were kids.”
Besides the food, the energetic and entertaining servers also draw customers back.
“One of the ladies that waitresses there is the best part of the whole experience. She is such a character and brings entertainment with her silly comical remarks. My mom loves going back when she is in town just to have her waitress for us,” Jessica said.
Waitress Jennie Weissmann, the employee at The Dumpling House whom Jessica mentions, considers herself a people person.
“[Customers] call me by name … they call me ‘Jennie’ or ‘Auntie,’” Weissmann said.
Weissmann tries her best to make customers laugh, and often leaves a lasting impression on them.
Weissmann will joke and wink at customers whether they are familiar with her or not. She will use her humor to communicate that the entrees take time to prepare, hinting that the customers should be patient.
“I [just] like making people happy,” Weissmann said.
As for owner Linda Liu, she feels happy to be so successful doing what she loves.
“Besides the business, I feel very happy [because] I serve all the students good food. It makes the student feel happy, and I feel happy too,” Linda said.
ALYSSA KUHLMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.