Alex Chin and Will Thanapisitikul insist they didn’t set out to make a better version of any traditional dumpling. That would have been a little bit hubristic—an insult, perhaps, to generations of Asian grandmas who spent decades honing their craft. Instead, the Berkeley-based chefs imagined their new pop-up, Parcels Project, as a platform for Asian-American dumplings that were a little bit more modern and out of the box.
The results are very, very delicious. They make a soup dumpling that bursts with broth reminiscent of Taiwanese beef noodle soup. Another delicately braided steamed dumpling is infused with the flavors of Hainan chicken rice.
“There are plenty of places that do really, really great dumplings,” Chin says. “We wanted to find something that navigated our story, our timeline of where we grew up and what we know very well.”
So far it’s been a success: A little over a month after launching Parcels Project, with only a modest social media presence and without any real marketing, Chin and Thanapisitikul have already sold more than 3,000 frozen dumplings, often selling out entirely a day or two after their weekly online ordering queue opens up on Sundays.
Like so many other food businesses launched in the past year, Parcels Project is something of a pandemic pivot, though both chefs were fortunate enough to land full-time gigs during lockdown: Chin at the ghost kitchen startup Virtual Kitchen and Thanapisitikul at Town Kitchen, an Oakland-based catering company with a focus on employing and training low-income youth. Both are stressful day jobs, and so the two chefs were looking for a passion project—“something of our own,” as Thanapisitikul puts it—that they could pour their creative energies into.