Dumpling Man

Food for Thought

Dumpling Man opened in 2005. I used to go there a lot because my best friend lived in the same building. The Taiwanese owner, Lucas Lin, was working the front in those days. He must have immigrated when he was young; I don’t recall him having any accent. He was one of the pioneers of branding Chinese restaurants and selling only one thing. The former is strengthened by the latter too.

If you grow up in countries like the US and Japan, branding becomes second nature. When you study the businesses owned by immigrant Chinese people, you become aware of the fact that you take your knowledge of branding for granted. It’s one of the crucial skills of survival you naturally inherit from your own culture. It’s striking how oblivious the Chinese are about branding. When I ask them about their favorite Chinese restaurants, they often do not know the names; they only know where they are.

In the same year that Dumpling Man opened, another place called Plump Dumpling opened several blocks away. The owners of the latter created a logo that looked almost exactly like that of Dumpling Man, a Hello-Kitty-like black-and-white face of a dumpling atop a red banner. Lin was furious and confronted the owners. New York Magazine wrote an article about this “Dumpling War”

What was interesting about this conflict is that the owners of Plump Dumpling did not see what the big deal was. Since Lin’s business was wildly successful, it made sense for them to copy everything he did; why reinvent the wheel? Not just branding, they didn’t comprehend the idea of intellectual property. Many Chinese people feel that ideas belong to everyone, particularly within their own community. It’s hard to argue against that because, it’s true, Lin too copied many ideas. He didn’t invent dumplings.

In the end, Plumb Dumpling revised its logo, and contrary to Lin’s prediction, it still exists. Now, right across the street from them is Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings which is even fancier than Dumpling Man. At this point, the younger generations who patronize Mimi Cheng’s, I don’t think, are aware of the pioneering work of Lin.