Owner unveils key ingredient in Din Tai Fung’s growth, success

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Welcoming smiles, exquisite artwork, and mouthwatering food are what people frequently imagine when they hear of Din Tai Fung.

The globalized chain restaurant boasts 167 restaurants worldwide and has been spreading the art of Chinese cuisine to all parts of the world for years.

When asked about his secret to success, Din Tai-Fung owner Warren Yang (楊紀華) explained that the company’s staff has been instrumental in the development of the brand and business worldwide.

History of Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung was originally an oil company, and first opened in 1957 by husband and wife, Yang Bing-yi, and Lai Pen-mai. In 1957, the couple began selling steamed dumplings went through numerous trials and errors to develop the key dishes that have made their restaurant’s reputation.

In 1972, the pair found success when their famous “Xiao Long-bao” was born. Although the pair weren’t the ones who created the Xiao Long-bao, their unique hand-folding skills, taste, and presentation set them apart from other restaurants and quickly captivated countless customers for Taiwan and beyond.

Word began to spread about the Chinese dim sum, and the Xiao Long-bao continues to be the most requested dish in Din Tai Fung till this day. 

Two children wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus and watch dumpling-making of Din Tai Fung at a department store in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

All About the Xiao Long-Bao

The art of the Xiao Long-bao is one that many people have tried to perfect, but have not succeeded in doing so. This should not come as a surprise because it’s quite impossible to master this incredibly folding technique.

According to Yang, it would take someone two to three years to perfect such skills. The reason why Xiao Long Bao is so hard to master is that it requires an exact ratio of ingredients and close attention to detail.

Yang explained that the time needed for the Xiao Long Bao to be at the perfect temperature is crucial and should be timed as accurately as possible. They need to be heated for around four and a half minutes, and if they are heated just ten seconds over time, they will crumble. 

Seen through glass, actor Tom Cruise, left, displays his dumplings at the world renowned Din Tai Fung restaurant with owner Yang Chi-hua in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, April 6, 2013. Cruise is in Taiwan for the Asia premiere of his new film “Oblivion.” (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Many may wonder why the Xiao Long Bao is so craved for. According to Yang, people like the Xiao Long Bao for different reasons. He specified that the Japanese especially loved the simplicity of it.

Years ago, before Din Tai Fung became globalized, their main customers were Japanese, Chinese and Americans. Therefore, when Yang Bing-yi and Lai Pen-mai first opened the store, they only included Japanese, Chinese, and English in their brand name. 

Expanding to the Global Market

When Yang Bing-yi and Lai Pen-mei first came up with the idea of expanding Din Tai Fung abroad, they decided to first start with Japan.

Yang noticed the incredible sanitation and politeness that the Japanese displayed, and decided to emphasize the need for a clean environment that allows his customers to feel like home in his restaurant. Therefore, this common expectation has traveled to all of his restaurants. 

In this Dec. 12, 2015, photo, dumpling makers wearing sanitary masks work on fresh dumplings at Din Tai Fung, a Chinese restaurant in the Central World mall in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Ted Anthony)

Although the brand Din Tai Fung has expanded to 167 restaurants, the expectations, not only by the customers but by Yang himself remain the same for each of them.

Yang pays close attention to the quality of his food and often dines in Din Tai Fung as well. According to him, his favorite dish is shrimp pancake (脆皮虾饼). The idea for shrimp pancakes came about when Yang visited Singapore.

He first started selling shrimp pancakes in Singapore, and the responses that he was getting back were positive. Therefore, he added this dish to some of the other restaurants, notably in Taiwan as well. 

Changing it Up

The process of adding and changing some of the items from the menu was to make sure that customers experienced different types of Chinese cuisine. He strongly hopes that his customers won’t get sick of eating the same food and often changes up his dishes.

Yang describes Din Tai Fung as somewhere you can eat every day and offers not only lunch and dinner, but breakfast as well. A lot of the inspiration that he gets for his new dishes comes from his traveling. 

Seen through glass, actor Tom Cruise arrives to make dumplings at the world-renowned Din Tai Fung restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, April 6, 2013. Cruise is in Taiwan for the Asia premiere of his new film “Oblivion.” (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

He states that when he traveled to Italy and saw how everything was paired with truffles, he was inspired to create a dish that would include such delicacy.

Therefore, he decided to add a new dish that many Din Tai Fung restaurants in Taiwan currently have, called truffle fried rice (松露炒飯)

However, with the dishes constantly changing, it would seem impossible for the food in all restaurants to taste the same, especially since the materials used for each dish are from different countries.

However, Yang stated that he has a master who knows exactly what the dishes should taste like. The master travels to each restaurant to ensure that all of them produce the same taste in food. 

Din Tai Fung restaurant is featured on this undated file photo. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Coronavirus and its Impact on Business

With all 167 restaurants scattered in countries worldwide, it is without a doubt that one of the challenges of having a global chain restaurant is the most recent coronavirus (COVID-19).

According to Yang, tourists make up more than 25% of their profit. Not only that, but he needs to monitor his workers closely. If a worker falls ill, he/she will need to be quarantined for two weeks. 

Din Tai Fung iconic dishes are featured in this collage photo. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Din Tai Fung Legacy and Impact

Although tourists make up a significant percentage of their profit, many Din Tai Fung restaurants, especially ones in Taiwan, were able to stay open because the locals continued to dine there.

According to Yang, one of the reasons why Din Tai Fung was able to become so prosperous was because generations after generation of people continue to dine there. 

It is without a doubt that there are numerous restaurants out there that sell Chinese cuisine, but almost nobody can compare to what Yang and his family have achieved.

Din Tai Fung continues to set the standard high for what the restaurant’s dining experience should be like with their excellent food and service. They have become the face of Chinese cuisine and continue to spread the art of Chinese food to countries all around the world.