Prolific Taiwanese chain Bafang Dumpling opened its first U.S. location in City of Industry in late March, bringing griddle-crisped potstickers and spicy sesame noodles to a mini-retail cluster at the western entrance of the Puente Hills Mall. With nearly 1,300 outlets in Taiwan and China, the well-established brand is betting that its winning formula of affordably priced Taiwanese comfort food served in a fast-casual setting will attract a steady stream of diners, even in a crowded dumpling market like the San Gabriel Valley.
City of Industry, a business-heavy area 18 miles east of Downtown, was chosen as the first stateside location due to its proximity to communities in both Los Angeles and Orange counties. The city’s demographic diversity and well-trafficked businesses further added to its appeal, says Stephanie Peng, the CEO of Bafang Yunji North America. Bafang’s U.S. expansion coincides with its entry onto the Taiwan stock market last September.
Bafang’s menu of potstickers, ingot-shaped dumplings, bouncy “QQ” noodles, and soy milk-based drinks — all offered at wallet-friendly prices — have attracted thousands of diners since opening on March 25, with lines often winding outside the restaurant’s door. A combination meal that includes a deep-fried pork chop, a serving of “Old Fashioned” soy sauce and shallot noodles, and iced tea rings in at $14, while a dozen of the restaurant’s best-selling pork potstickers are priced at a reasonable $8.75. Peng says that the company “challenged” itself to offer the same value in the U.S. as it does in Asia, and achieves its lower price point through a combination of sales volume, operational efficiencies like having a central kitchen in Irvine that makes the restaurant’s noodles, sauces, and wrappers for dumplings and potstickers, and “support” from Bafang’s operations in Asia. Bafang is committed to affordability, Peng says, to compete with national chains like Chipotle and In-N-Out, and to better serve cash-strapped diners facing increased inflation and the still-lingering effects of the pandemic.
While the brand’s economical pricing is in-line with its restaurants in Asia, the stateside food menu is abbreviated with recipes adapted to suit American palates; its market research determined that American diners wanted sweeter, more savory, and spicier notes than their Asian counterparts. “We added a little bit more of everything,” Peng says. “Our fillings for the dumplings and the potstickers have more flavor. U.S. consumers love sauces, so we made our noodles with an extra kick.” Bafang also found that American appetites are larger than Asian diners’, so the restaurant is offering eight combination meals that can include a dozen potstickers with various sides for $10.50; these combination meals are exclusive to the U.S. menu.
Jiayu Lin founded the original Bafang Dumpling in 1998 in the Tianmu neighborhood of Taipei. A popular franchising program allowed the restaurant to rapidly increase its presence across Taiwan and China – Bafang arrived in Hong Kong in 2008 and mainland China in 2014. “The founder always valued giving people the opportunity to be a small business owner,” says Peng. “He gave the opportunity to customers, employees, and people in the community that really love this product, this brand. We hope to bring that here and give people the opportunity to be business owners,” Peng says. Almost 85 percent of Bafang’s 1,300 locations are currently operated by franchisees.
Anticipating further expansion in Southern California in the coming years, Bafang established its North American headquarters in Irvine, along with its central kitchen. Growing the number of restaurants in the region is a priority for Bafang, particularly in Los Angeles and Orange counties, says Peng. Though Peng wouldn’t reveal how many additional restaurants are in the works or where they’ll be located exactly, she says that franchise opportunities will be available starting in 2023.