The secret to good food in NYC? A secret recipe from mom, a ton of dedication and confidence. Worn spent some time with the Hannah and Marian Cheng, the sisters behind the new East Village dumpling shop, Mimi Cheng's. When we heard they were mentored by old DC friends and co-founders of Sweetgreen Nic Jammet, Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru we knew it would be our new favorite. Let's just say, we were right.
How have you benefited from having Sweetgreen as mentors? What was that journey like?
The real answer is how have we not benefited from having Sweetgreen as mentors. We've been friends for almost a decade and there's nothing like an old friend. They've been our biggest supporters since day one when Mimi Cheng's was just a dream mentioned in passing. Almost 3 years ago, we were at dinner and threw out this idea, "This might sound crazy BUT what do you think about us opening a dumpling shop?" Nic's response was, "Are you kidding me?! That sounds like a brilliant idea." His response breathed life into our idea and gave us the spark of confidence we needed to keep pursuing this pipe dream.
"Marian took the leap of faith, trading in her full-time job in fashion to be an apprentice at Sweetgreen Nomad."
From that point, we mulled over and dissected the idea for two years; eventually, we got to a point where we said, "It's now or never or this will just be another one of those 'great ideas'." Marian took the leap of faith, trading in her full-time job in fashion to be an apprentice at Sweetgreen Nomad. Neither of us have had restaurant experience before that. It was at Sweetgreen that Marian learned how to run a fast-paced, well-organized restaurant. We were and are very lucky to have Nic as a sounding board for our ideas.
2. Tell us about opening day of the restaurant. What do you remember most from that day?
Opening day was a blur. The turn out from the community and our family and friends was overwhelming. Our sweet adopted 85-year old Italian grandmother, who lives in Rockland County, demanded a ride from her daughter to come to our opening day, and we were so busy that we couldn't even stop to give her a hug.
We sold out for lunch in a couple hours and had to close the doors to make sure we had dumplings to serve for dinner. A bunch of our closest friends stayed after dinner ended and brought bottles of champagne to celebrate. We didn't have time to celebrate though because we were prepping for the next day already. Our friends drank champagne and watched us all frantically prep ingredients until 3am. Everyone pitched in, our team worked overtime, our parents, my boyfriend. Everyone was assigned something to do.
"I have zero restaurant experience. Why did I ever think that this was a good idea?!"
The thought that I remember most from that day was, "I have zero restaurant experience. Why did I ever think that this was a good idea?!" Nic came by that night (and on many occasions) and reassured us that this feeling was very natural and it would get easier from this point on. I'm happy to say that he was right!
3. What motivates you both to keep pushing yourselves and the company forward?
Owning a restaurant really is a labor of love. You can't half-heartedly cook something delicious. We always say you can taste the difference between an intuitive cook and someone who is not. It genuinely brings us joy to be able to serve delicious food to people. Our recipes are all from our family so it's extremely personal. Owning a restaurant also allows you to embrace your creativity and we haven't found anything that we can't turn into a dumpling yet!
4. What was the hardest “No” you've had to say either to yourself or someone else, along your path to starting Mimi Cheng’s?
Saying "no" is a very crucial life skill to have. We've always had this mindset so it's been easy for us to stay true to ourselves and Mimi Cheng's. Trust your gut feeling because you have it for a reason.