When Cathay Bi folded her first dumplings, part of a trial batch for friends and family, she had no idea it would be the start of not just a business endeavor, but a community. Since those early days in 2019, Dumpling Club has grown from a subscriber-based, small-batch dumpling club — one that would sell out every week — to its most recent iteration: a Mission District shop opening on January 20. Enter the storefront and you’ll find a space filled with all kinds of food-related items. It will also be a space for cooking classes, and a place, of course, for dumplings. “I think a lot of our customers think of us as a community as opposed to a bun factory,” Bi says. “And as the world came back alive from the pandemic fog, it seemed like a really natural transition to start thinking about a physical place where our community can come together.”
Dumpling Club subscribers who would often pick up their weekly orders from Bi will be familiar with the space. Bi and her team previously used the Tinker Kitchen space on 22nd Street as a commissary kitchen during the pandemic. But when the place was put up for sale, Bi took it as her chance to grow the business in a new direction – just not in the way most would expect. Yes, Bi admits, it would seem like a natural step to make the big leap into a full restaurant — and, to be fair, she hasn’t completely ruled that out for the future — but the transition to a cooking class space, dumpling. retailer, and food store seemed like a much closer extension of what Dumpling Club is. “The way this turned into a multipurpose space is really because I was actively thinking about ways to build a space around food that isn’t a restaurant,” Bi says.
Bi worked out how to describe the non-restaurant. As a former Google product manager, she’s used to being asked for one-line descriptions for projects, she says. But for her, the Dumpling Club space on 22nd Street is much more than a restaurant. Dumplings – and all the creative iterations that Bi and her team have worked on and developed – made with premium ingredients are still central to the business. Rotating flavors will be available for pre-order and pick up at the store with the intention of making extras for walk-in purchases in the future. But the new storefront is also a reflection of the community she’s created in the years since the business launched. The shop is both a way to support customers in their cooking adventures with products such as Asian cookbooks, sauces, ceramics and chopsticks.
Looking closer, it’s also a way Bi hopes to support other foodies and artists she’s met on her Dumpling Club journey. The hot chile sauces for dumplings are made by friends; the ceramics created by local artisans; even the plants for sale, which Bi knows are not entirely related to food, are a plant collaboration with another friend. “Originally, my thought was, let’s just make the store an extension of these different tools that help you participate in food,” Bi says. But the shop has evolved many times since that idea, and now includes a section for children’s books about dumplings, chopsticks for children, and even stuffed bao toys.
Continuing with that theme of community, the space will also serve as a space for cooking classes. In recent months, Bi and her team have hosted cooking classes such as an egg tart and bao making class with Jessica Fu of Stonemill Matcha; now they hope to add more such events for customers. Already on the schedule for January 20th and 21st, and January 28th and 29th, are dumpling wrapping classes for the Lunar New Year. Once the club gets past opening, Bi is thinking ahead to other things she can fold into the new space, like hosting another Chinese breakfast event. “It feels like I ran a marathon,” Bi says. “And at the same time, it feels like I’m only on the tip of the iceberg.”
Dumpling Club (3233 22nd Street) debuts on January 20th with limited hours in its first few weeks. check @dumplingclubsf on Instagram for the latest information on hours of operation and class information.