Iron Teapot is founded during the pandemic by me, Sally, a Dim Sum lover from the San Gabriel Valley (about an hour East of Santa Monica).
I'm a Chinese-Vietnamese American (more specifically, Cantonese & Teo Chew) that immigrated to the San Gabriel Valley area from Vietnam when I was a year old. Dim sum on the weekend after waiting in the parking lot for an hour was a normal part of my childhood. Dim sum is so good that it was always worth the wait. Dim sum is so good that it's worth the hassle and discomfort of being hit by a few carts and screamed at by angry Chinese women pushing those steam carts. The San Gabriel Valley is blessed with some of the worlds best Chinese Dim Sum restaurants.
My family grew up on Cantonese and Hong Kong pop culture. Dim Sum wasn't just a decadent delicious treat, but a community celebration of food, culture, and gratitude over brunch.
Through the years, I had to leave the San Gabriel Valley for school and more school, eventually becoming an attorney, establishing my own law firm in Los Angeles.
Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley and having immigrant parents, dim sum and all of its wonderful staples such as honeycomb tripe, chicken feet, and pig feet were a part of our Chinese-American lifestyle. However, we knew that in my own country, America, most people call our favorite foods "exotic", "strange", and even "gross".
Through the years, I've witnessed respect for Japanese food as a culinary art. Yet, there is little known about the culinary art of Chinese cooking, especially Dim Sum. Anyone that has tried to make Dim Sum will know that making that preparing the perfect texture of the meat, the wrapper, and the flour takes real skill and years of experience. In China, a Dim Sum chef takes longer to train than a sushi chef in Japan. Dim Sum is a unique and highly skilled culinary art that is rarely accessible outside of Asia and Chinatowns mainly due to the scarcity of Dim Sum chefs and the brunch of culture of Dim Sum that requires it to be a brunch only meal.
I recall being in complete awe of seeing Dim Sum as a fast-casual food and a high end afternoon tea when my parents first took me to Hong Kong. Dim Sum was a normal and cool dining experience. You can have elevated dim sum and you can have dim sum on a stick while you're heading to work or during lunch.
As a business attorney, and San Gabriel Valley native, I have many family, friends, and clients that own great dim sum restaurants. I have asked them for over a decade to please open an authentic and hip restaurant that can serve Dim Sum all day on the West Side of Los Angeles with quirky cool cocktails. Create a place that can usher the art of Dim Sum into the mainstream and outside of Chinatowns. They all declined because they knew the high cost of rent and the lack of skilled Dim Sum chefs and cooks willing to commute to the Westside.
The Covid Pandemic caused many beautiful restaurants' demise. Covid gave me free time as a trial attorney by pushing all my trials out to year 2022. With that free time, I came across a beautifully designed little space with a beautiful patio on Venice Blvd in the Culver area that had a full liquor license called Jaffa. I knew this was for the dim sum place I envisioned to come to life.
With my beautiful family's support, I took my leap of faith and took over the location.
The long journey towards opening this quirky place was far from easy. Covid has made everything difficult, from hiring staff to buying steamer baskets due to freight shortages, to the doubling of food costs. While I'm helping restaurant clients and family on how to close down their restaurants due to all the impossible obstacles and curve balls thrown their way, I was here trying to open a nearly impossible new restaurant. Everyone thought I was a cute crazy fool. I still think I am... but I still believe this challenge is worth it.
As of writing this updated "about" section, it's been a rough & grueling 3 weeks of soft-opening of true sweat and tears - cooks demanding cash pay (and then leaving to grow marijuana), to consisting of clogged toilets, broken printers, broken steamers, electrical wire trippings, contractors taking payment and not working, to pipe leakages, lost and stolen packages and supplies. To most people, these are obvious signs telling someone to quit and cut your losses. To me, more challenges just mean that the final opening will be even more worthwhile, forcing me to constantly re-evaluate and remember exactly why I have to do this. For a refugee child that believes living in a small home with 30 people was just as happy as living in a large home later in life, profit has never motivated me to work hard. This Dim Sum world I'm trying to create is more than just a whimsical idea, it's my way of contributing to my community, to my family. I want my child to grow up in a world where he doesn't need to explain to people what "dim sum" is or show them how great it is. I want my child to grow up in a world where he can meet up with his friends at a Dim Sum restaurant on a Friday night and laugh over cocktails. I want my child to grow up in a world where his only drive-through options will include food from his own heritage.
After after devoting over 8 months of my time and my hard earned life savings, I got to finally see people of all backgrounds, colors, and ethnicities laughing and under the stars on my patio with stacks of dim sum steamers on their table while holding their chopsticks in one hand and a loquat syrup (Pei Pa Koa) mojito in their other hand. In the last month, hundreds of Chinese-Americans have personally emailed me and told me that they were so happy to see a restaurant like mine finally open on the Westside of LA in the way I'm opening it. Proudly authentic Dim Sum that's also proudly American in its ambiance.
Many kind and amazing dim sum lovers and curious foodies in the neighborhood have signed up to participate in our soft opening to help train and get my team ready for a fully opening.
Diners of all colors and backgrounds having Mexican Candy margaritas and craft beers at 11PM in a wooden patio under soft amber lights with corny 80s & 90s Cantonese pop songs (consisting of the theme song from the 1980s Legend of the Condor Heroes).
My parents stood there one night with me while watching the energy of the people dining on the patio and felt a huge sense of accomplishment - that after 40 years of living in this country we call home, our food & culture is celebrated and welcomed in an area that is not predominantly Chinese.
I'm obviously not the only Chinese-American that has dared to open a restaurant with an unapologetically authentic menu. But I'm so glad that I'm bold enough to be part of this movement. And, I'm glad I took advantage of the accidental free time Covid granted to my profession as an attorney to do something I've always wanted to do.
The Iron Teapot Name.
I've been asked a few times about why this restaurant is called the Iron Teapot. The short answer is that I love drinking tea from small and artistic looking iron teapots with my dim sum.
The longer answer is this: The Iron Teapot symbolizes my family and I. We are strong and resilient on the outside. Yet, on the inside, we are filled with love and warmth. We freely give that warmth, love and support to people around us with similar refugee backgrounds throughout our lives, regardless of how little resources we have for ourselves.
My family history is that of survival, from my grand parents fleeing Mao Era China to fleeing war-torn Vietnam. My grand parents experienced being refugees and starting over twice in one life-time. My family have endured communist prison, tragic death of families, extreme poverty, and illness. No matter what challenges life has thrown us, how unfair the system appears to be rigged against us, we survive and it never broke our spirits to continue the to be warm and generous. We continue to strengthen ourselves to keep helping those around us.
The Chinese name of the restaurant, '榮豐" is the name of the car importing and repair company my grandparents established in the Chinese community in Saigon, Vietnam after many years of hard work. This company supported multiple extended families for nearly two decades. 榮豐 and everything my grandparents established was taken and forced to close by the Communist government during the Vietnam War. My Grandma Ama raised my siblings and I (nearly single-handedly) by sewing from home in Los Angeles. My Grandma Ama and her courage to smuggle jewelry and gold in order to commission the building of a refugee boat to save many people is the reason hundreds of refugees and their families are safely living in the US today.
Every time I open any business, starting with my own law firm, I asked my Grandma Ama to give my business a name, she would say: 榮豐. This business was her heart and soul and it was important that she saw the name of business again. My beautiful & courageous Grandma Ama passed away last year and was not able to see this restaurant opened. I know that if I asked her what name she would want for this business, her answer would be the same: 榮豐. There are many, many dishes at the Iron Teapot 榮豐 that are dedicated to my Grandma Ama.
I know my Grandma Ama would want to see a day when her family are truly at home and found a country where we are no longer foreigners or refugees.
The Restaurant During Covid
Order your fresh, handmade Dim Sum with our easy to download app a head of time so that you do not have to wait.
The tables are all open seating and sprayed down and sterilized after every customer with alcohol based cleaners, ending with a UV light sanitizer.
All customers are required to wear a mask when they are not sitting at their table and dining.
All staff are required to wear masks and gloves that must be changed at least one time very hour.
Every room in the interior of the restaurant is equipped with a special UV air filter. Thus, all restrooms contain a running UV air filter.
All staff have their temperatures taken daily before entering the premises and are required to self-quarantine and test if anyone they came into contact with in the last two weeks have any Covid symptoms. Additionally, all staff are required to wash hands often and wear gloves and masks all day. Gloves and masks are changed often.