Din Tai Fung Celebrates 20 Years in America

We talked to Aaron Yang, vice president of Din Tai Fung and grandson of founder Bing-Yi Yang, as the culinary brand celebrates 20 years and opens a new location in Las Vegas.
Photographs courtesy of Din Tai Fung
Aaron Yang; Photograph courtesy of Din Tai Fung

When did you start working for the restaurant?
As early as elementary school, I was helping out with swiping credit cards and taking payments. I still remember doing homework in the restaurant. From there, I just learned every position and just helped my parents. I learned everything from making the dumplings to being a server.

How did Din Tai Fung start out?
My grandfather Bing-Yi Yang started the restaurant in 1958 (in Taipei, Taiwan), and it actually wasn’t a restaurant (at first). He had just immigrated from China to Taipei (due to civil unrest). He started a cooking oil store there in 1958 and in 1972, supermarkets became very popular in Taiwan and you could easily buy cooking oil at a supermarket. The need for cooking oil stores kind of dissipated after that, so my grandpa decided to convert the store into a restaurant with only four tables. He decided to specialize in xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, because it was a local favorite, kind of a delicacy.

How did the location at South Coast Plaza come about?
South Coast Plaza approached us because of the popularity of the restaurant at the time. They saw our success at The Americana in Glendale. They wanted to appeal to the large Chinese and Asian demographic in O.C. as well as the international tourists that frequent the center from China. We thought it was a perfect fit. We were definitely caught off guard when we first opened there at the demand and popularity. We’ve had to expand the space.

What do you think makes your xiao long bao unique?
I definitely think the quality of our ingredients. We use kurobuta pork that’s a lot more expensive. We think that the flavor and the fat content makes for a really quality dumpling. Not a lot of places use kurobuta pork or jidori chicken. Also, how thin the skin is. It’s really difficult to have a really thin dumpling skin, but still have it strong enough to hold the soup in. In order to achieve that perfect ratio, you really need to make the dumplings to order. There are no shortcuts to our cooking.

What can guests expect at the Vegas location?
Consistency with our other locations, but also with some Vegas flair. It’s a really expansive, massive space with really good lighting. There’s a specialty cocktail menu that really pairs well with our food.

What does it feel like to see the brand grow to what it is today?
It’s an amazing feeling to help the family business grow continuously and just as a Chinese-American to be able to spread the cuisine and introduce it to all different kinds of Americans. It’s a good feeling to know that it’s accepted into the mainstream as well. It’s definitely very gratifying and helps drive our passion to continue to do that and grow.

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