Journey to the Dumpling is among the restaurants featured on HBO Max’s series Take Out with Lisa Ling, now streaming all episodes.
Hear more from the restaurant owners as we take a deeper dive into their stories.
Key business takeaways
- Delegating tasks and trusting your team members allows for more efficient growth of your business
- Building connections with your team and recognizing their work can help keep them motivated and inspired
- Although there may be bumps in the road, approach your business with optimism and confidence to weather the storm and find success
Customers seated around the table are greeted by a wave of steam as the server lifts the lid of the bamboo basket, revealing the xiao long bao (soup dumplings). In awe of the magnitude of released steam, the dinner guests smile, cheer, and clap their hands, ready to dive into the signature dish at Journey to the Dumpling.
Such customer excitement for their food instills great joy and pride in restaurant owners Yvonne Nguyen and Chris Tan. The couple has always possessed a passion for Chinese cuisine, especially soup dumplings, and found there was a lack of it in their area. As a result, Yvonne and Chris decided to be the solution to the problem, opening Journey to the Dumpling in 2016 in Sacramento, California.
While soup dumplings are the restaurant’s specialty, Journey to the Dumpling serves a myriad of Chinese dishes inspired by the couple’s heritage and travel to Shanghai. Whether it’s for their pork belly noodle soup or Szechuan noodles, the couple hopes to instill their love of food in their customers, especially as they prepare to open their second location.
After the restaurant was featured on HBO Max’s Take Out With Lisa Ling, we spoke with Yvonne to dig deeper into her story. Hear how she and her and her husband brought a taste of Chinese cuisine to Sacramento and how they’ve connected with their community, both in and out of the restaurant.
How did Journey to the Dumpling come to be?
I went to school to study biology and become an optometrist but found myself at age 26 still living with my parents and living paycheck to paycheck. Chris’s family immigrated to America when he was five years old, and his parents were working day and night, leaving him and his brother to take care of themselves most of the time. Chris would mow people’s lawn for money when he got older and then when he was of age, he started working many, many odd jobs and never went to college.
[We] met at a restaurant/bar he previously owned when he realized it wasn’t the family friendly type of restaurant he envisioned. As a dumpling and noodle soup lover, Chris felt that we needed a restaurant [where we lived] in Elk Grove that specialized in dumplings. As for myself, I had fallen in love with soup dumplings when I went to college in San Diego and also felt that there wasn’t any place in Sacramento that served a good soup dumpling. With this, we traveled to Shanghai and discovered even more menu items to bring back to our city.
What is one of your favorite parts of being a restaurateur?
As a foodie myself, it warms my heart to know that we are bringing the same joy to guests that I feel when I eat good food. It’s something that can brighten your day. It’s an avenue to bring your loved ones to share the love, and it also brings us a lot of pride to be able to put our city on the map!
How do you keep your team motivated, yourself included?
We often motivate our team by taking everyone out to enjoy a nice meal together. This creates opportunities for us to bond and get to know each other in a more casual way. We often buy drinks and snacks for the team to share, and we throw a holiday party every year for them with grand prizes and games.
Words are powerful, and a simple thank you means a lot. We have been blessed with a team who doesn’t see their job as just a job—this team has become our family.Yvonne Nguyen
With COVID these past two years, we replaced the holiday party with holiday bonuses instead. We throw a lion dance and firecracker show every Lunar New Year and give red envelopes to our team and to children who dine with us. We praise our team when they do a good job and acknowledge that we are a busy restaurant and require a strong team to maintain efficiency. Words are powerful, and a simple thank you means a lot. We have been blessed with a team who doesn’t see their job as just a job—this team has become our family, and we are truly appreciative of everything they do.
What do you wish you knew when you opened your restaurant?
When we started this business, we knew it would be a lot of hard work. We knew it would require a lot of hours and missed meals. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. We wanted everything to be perfect so we were involved in every process. With this second location opening, we have learned to delegate and trust our team to do a great job.
No matter what life throws at you, just know that the positivity you radiate will shine right back at you. In the end, we feel our success has come from hard work and a positive attitude. There have been many bumps in the road, but we face each one with optimism and confidence, and that has been the key to our partnership.
What’s the number one thing you want your customers to know?
We wish customers knew how much love and labor goes into making our menu items from scratch. We put a lot of thought into what we want to serve. Our handcrafted dumplings are labor intensive, and we strive to be health conscious at the same time. We wouldn’t serve anything we wouldn’t feed our loved ones.
What is your hope for Journey to the Dumpling and your community this year?
With our second location opening this year, we are hoping to bring more smiles to the city of Sacramento. We hope that seeing our restaurant on Lisa Ling’s Take Out will make our community as proud of us as we are of them.
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