Why a Restaurant Decided to Make Frozen Potstickers

Why a Restaurant Decided to Make Frozen Potstickers

One of the first questions we often gets asked when we share that developed Mamahuhu frozen potstickers is, “Why would a restaurant try to step into frozen goods?” - it’s a valid question - launching a frozen food is an arduous, years-long task, especially when you have busy restaurants to run. It came down to a few things: Covid, culture, and changing the conversation around frozen food.

The first Mamahuhu location (our flagship store on Clement St. in the Inner Richmond district) opened in January of 2020 - with that timing, you know what happens next. Like most restaurants across the country, we had to immediately pivot our operation to delivery-only. Around six months into the pandemic, the trajectory of the dine-in industry was still a complete unknown. It was at that point that myself and our my co-founders Ben and Brandon began to think if there was a way to bring Chinese-American food to the Bay Area and beyond outside of the four walls of our restaurants.

It was personal passion project for me, as the decision to develop frozen gluten-free potstickers was deeply personal. Dumplings, in my family and many Northern Chinese families, are a special occasion item, a festive food. To celebrate Lunar New Year, many Northern Chinese families wrap dumplings together, hiding coins or red dates (a symbol of good fortune, and a little bit less of a choking hazard) within the plump filling. Families will stuff themselves full of dumplings, hoping to be the one who bites into the sweet prize. The lucky winners often receive money from family elders. Dumplings are also traditionally eaten before traveling; ancient Chinese money is shaped like a little dumpling, and dumplings represent luck and good fortune. My mother would make dumplings for me before I left home - it’s a very strong Chinese family tradition. After developing a sensitivity to gluten in my adulthood, I was missing out on being a part of these family events, as the dumplings are traditionally made with a wheat wrapper. Eating the dough literally gave me stomach aches, and I couldn’t participate in these traditions anymore; it made me sad! My family experimented trying to make potstickers without wheat, but it’s difficult to do at home.

Meanwhile, my partner Chef Brandon Jew had been experimenting in the kitchen with dumplings at Mister Jiu’s. It became a culinary challenge - to create a delicious, gluten-free potsticker that could be shared widely during the pandemic. The Mamahuhu culinary team began with playing around with Cantonese-inspired rice based wrappers and various nut flours, eventually evolving into a combination rice and oat flour for the best texture and eating experience. After experimenting with vegan vegetable-based fillings, varying fat contents of pork, and accompaniments such as garlic stems and scallions, we eventually landed on Tofu & Mushroom, made with organic local Hodo tofu and shiitake and wood ear mushrooms, and Pork & Purple Cabbage, made with heritage Klingeman Farms’ pork, old-school chive flavor, and bright purple cabbage, and started testing them in our restaurants.

The response to selling handmade frozen potstickers at our Inner Richmond store was overwhelmingly positive. In 2021, the Year of The Ox, our Mamahuhu restaurants handed out hong bao, or red envelopes, for Lunar New Year, and lucky winners received free bags of the frozen potstickers as a prize. We had to discontinue making them by hand in the restaurant because we were selling out so quickly; we didn’t know much about selling direct to consumer at the time, we just wanted to make something to give people that they can enjoy during Covid - but we couldn’t do it on our own anymore. Around the same time, the landscape of Asian and Asian-American packaged goods was developing. More interesting flavors were coming out, and we thought, “this is a place we should try to shift our focus to - it makes a lot of sense to create something we are excited by, that all our fans can eat on an every day basis.”

Although exciting innovations in east Asian condiments and noodles were filling grocery store shelves, as well as re-imaginings of tired freezer stapes like frozen burritos and pizza, we noticed that a high quality, delicious frozen potsticker still wasn’t available to the masses. The freezer section of most supermarkets didn’t reflect the rich history of festivity, joy, and family behind dumplings. There just weren’t dumplings in the freezer section of our supermarkets that we were excited about. Frozen dumplings are a go-to for when you’re stuck at home, or an easy dinner - but when we tried many of them, they didn’t taste as good as we wanted. They weren’t something worth celebrating. Freezing food is one of the best ways to keep delicious food fresh, and the category has devolved; plus, there’s a huge cultural misconception that frozen Chinese food is something that’s cheap, greasy, and not good for you, but we know there’s thoughtful ways of sourcing and preparing food in the Mamahuhu way.

After years of testing, re-testing, and teaching ourselves how to bring a frozen product to life, Mamahuhu is launching our first direct-to-your-door products, gluten-free Tofu & Mushroom and Pork & Purple Cabbage potstickers, in September of 2023. Whether you grew up making handmade dumplings with your family or splitting steaming platters of takeout from your local Chinese-American restaurant, Mamahuhu potstickers were made to bring a spirit of community and creativity to your table at home. And we’re just getting started.

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