Sharing the Taste of Tradition with Nadia Liu Spellman of Dumpling Daughter

June 20, 2024

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Dumpling Daughter founder Nadia Liu Spellman’s parents launched the most high-end Chinese restaurant New England had ever seen in the 1980’s. Growing up in a family where fine cuisine and mom’s home cooking were essential, Nadia was inspired to launch Dumpling Daughter in 2014. As an ode and respect to what her parents started, today, she showcases her childhood favorites and family’s home recipes through multiple restaurants in the Boston area and frozen foods and sauce. Dumpling Daughter frozen foods and Signature Spicy Sweet Soy sauce are now in over 1,200 markets and available nationwide on Amazon Prime and Nadia launched her cookbook with her mother, celebrity chef, Sally Ling in 2022, the Dumpling Daughter cookbook: Heirloom recipes from our restaurants and home kitchens, rated top coolest cookbook by Forbes in 2022. The family cookbook, frozen products, sauce, and all fun things Dumpling Daughter are sold through Dumpling Daughter’s ecommerce store, available nationwide.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. This is going to be a wonderful addition because we’ve got with us today Nadia Liu Spellman. She’s the founder of Dumpling Daughter. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Nadia.

Nadia Liu Spellman: Thank you so much John for having me.

John: We’re so happy to have you because this is going to be a just a wonderful and delicious version of the Impact podcast today. And before we get talking about your entrepreneurial journey at Dumpling Daughter, talk a little bit about growing up, how you grew up, what was going on when you were growing up, and how you got even on this fascinating and wonderful and delicious journey you’re on.

Nadia: I was so fortunate to have the parents that I did. I grew up in their restaurant and it wasn’t just any restaurant. It was the most high-end Chinese restaurant that I’ve ever been and that Boston had ever seen at the time. So in 1984, is when they launched and I remember that everyone was in tuxedos. You had to wear a tuxedo to be a restaurant, yes. Governor [inaudible], Julia Child, Celebrity Chef Martin Yan, Yo-Yo Ma, the famous musician, they were all dining there and what a childhood it was to be surrounded by that kind of atmosphere and to really be in it and have those memories.

John: Okay. So Nadia, let’s frame this up. I know, I live there. I live in Boston in 1980 when I was a freshman at Boston University. I lived on [inaudible] Road. What part of Boston in ’84 was your parents’ restaurant and it was called Sally Ling’s, right?

Nadia: Yes, it was named after my mother and her maiden name was Ling, so Sally Ling’s and it was on Commercial Street. It was near the aquarium and the North End so it is right at the foot of the North End as you’re going towards the water.

John: And North End being where Little Italy is, right? That whole area?

Nadia: Correct. Correct.

John: So, how old were you in ’84? You were a kid? You vividly remember the opening and meeting Yo-Yo Ma or Julia Child or any of these unbelievable iconic figures?

Nadia: Yes. It was 1982 was when I was born so I was little. So I didn’t [inaudible] when the grand opening [inaudible] [crosstalk], but I remember going there as a 5, 6, 7, 8 year old. I absorbed a lot of it and I obviously have so many pictures too. And so when you see the pictures, it ignites a lot of your memory and we also still have a lot of the art that was on the walls, the sculptures that were on podiums there and it was like a museum, right? Every single painting had its place. There was a indentation in every wall to fit that painting. There was spotlights on every piece of art. There is a old man from a Chinese story carved out of wood and he now sits in my house. So a lot of these pieces, these heirlooms, are still with me and I remember a lot of it because there’s great documentation and I was 8 by the time it was really successful.

John: Wow. So when parents own an iconic business, it’s sort of like dad’s the king, mom’s the queen and what were you the princess? Did you just screw around or did it you have to sit or stand in one place or how was that when you were there? How did that delicate ballet work?

Nadia: That’s a great question. I remember I was trained to sit for a multi-course meal. So I had to bring the activities that I liked whether it was a Barbie or a coloring book, these were all packed in my bag ready to go for an 8 or 10 course meal because adults would have their table, the young children would have our table, and we were not to get up. And after though when the parents are having after dinner cocktails or port wine, we had the freedom to go into the kitchen because service was shutting down and so we would go scoop our own ginger ice cream and we get to run around the kitchen or the private dining room upstairs if there was no party, and so it was just such a wonderful way to grow up and I knew that it was special. I can feel that at a very young age.

John: I love it. So talk about you grew up and now you’re off to college, what goes on then? What’s happening then in your life?

Nadia: I saw my parents as entrepreneurs my whole life which really influenced me to want to do the same thing. One of the first things I noticed was they got to wake up anytime they wanted. They were not rushing to work. They were not in morning traffic and that was different. We also had a restaurant that we could eat anything we want and entertain all of our family and friends and I thought, “What freedom?” They really have freedom and I wanted that so I went to entrepreneurial program. I was lucky that it was near my home in [inaudible] College was the school I chose. The number one in entrepreneurship program and it was exactly what I needed. I needed someone to really show me the Business 101 starting at a young age. I also worked in several of my parents restaurant starting when I was 13, and so I really liked the performance of the business. Putting on a show and giving people a great time and a great experience, I really liked all of it and the inner workings of it too. And so I thought, “I must go to business school” and it was like a mini MBA program and really a great choice for me.

John: You show up in a business school though. You already had a junior degree. You already knew the language of entrepreneurs, of commercial, of money changing and everything else. You understood what was going on when you got to business school, you were just polishing your skills there. You weren’t learning to be an entrepreneur. You already had it in you innately through your DNA and also from what you learned from a child until you went to college.

Nadia: Right. I think that part of growing up as a teenager is learning people skills, and I think I really accelerated that learning through the restaurant. I was forced to deal with Chinese chefs and I was forced to deal with angry customers and I wanted that. My father always told me “You’re going to work two nights a week. I’m not going to take away from your social life. Work from 6:00 to 9:00. Work Friday and Saturday. Not that I need you, but because you need training” and so my father put me in there as a way to hone my people skills. So when I went to college, it was really learning about how to start a business, how to run your own business, how to figure out what your business should be, being creative, and it was really great because my father said now, “You’ve worked in the restaurants, you can now learn academically and now this is when your experience begins”, because we get better with experience and time as a foundation and so that’s when he advised me to get my first job in finance and he said as you go through the stages of life, you’re going to learn and you’re going to absorb and you’re going to take notes on what you like and what you don’t like. Nobody is an overnight success. It is a slow process that you should learn as you go and I took his advice and I took a lot of notes through the years, I tried a lot of different things, and I realized what my passions were in my twenties.

John: When you started college, when you started the entrepreneurship program, did you have a predisposed notion that I’m going to be as an entrepreneur? Did you say I’m going to go do my own restaurant, I’m going to go in the food industry or you had other aspirations or other visions at that point when you started the journey?

Nadia: Many visions, not just food. When you’re in college, you’re reading the Harvard Business School Case Studies, you’re reading about The Body Shop, you’re reading about different restaurants, you’re reading about Champagne France, I mean your mind is open to all of these different industries like pet food, right? How it’s the most high profit margin business out there, and cosmetics. And that was what it was about, learning about all these different opportunities and I had so many ideas, but the number one thing they taught us is, look for a need. Look for essentially white space. Where can you fill a need? Something that you feel people need that they can’t live without, how can you bring it to them? And so you see as you go through school that there are so many successful concepts because people need them, Home Depot, right? What would you do without Home Depot? And the CEO also went to [inaudible] so we learned about that and always just thinking about how we can fill a need or a want throughout the four years at school.

John: That’s so interesting. Your dad was right, going back to another great Boston personality, you’re dad’s so right about the need for doing, seeing, and repetition because when they asked Tom Brady, why are you so different? Why are you so great? And he says, it’s basically comes down to two words, pattern and recognition. And when you can recognize a pattern, when he gets behind the line of scrimmage, he said when he sees in the defense what others don’t see because they haven’t seen enough defenses over years, thousands and thousands times in all the tape he has watch, when you’ve done something so long and when you’ve had so much experience already growing up and then as you said, as you get into school and you’re reading different case studies, and you’re seeing different patterns and different Industries, but then you can align them, things become clearer at least when you can start recognizing patterns and stuff in success and there’s lots of common threads when you look at all those great businesses. You mentioned The Body Shop or Home Depot, so many other iconic great brands that have have risen just from nothing. So you get out of college, and where does your journey go from there?

Nadia: So in college, I learned about creating good habits, being a consistent person that shows up, being present because those are all very key and being successful at school, creating goals, meeting those deadlines and my dad said, I think your next education should be a nice job of a foundational job that after that, you can do anything. So get something on your resume that looks attractive that makes people think “Wow, She’s good enough to get that job. And what will that job be? You give me some ideas” and so I had to tell my dad all the different ideas I had. He said, “You’re essentially going through another training program, another stage in your life where you’re learning and find that foundational first job”. And so in Babson, it was always Finance. So I went into investment banking and numbers was not my favorite subject, but it gave me an opportunity to go to New York City and follow all my friends that wanted to be the guys on the movie, Wall Street. That was like constantly running in the dorm room TVs. And you know, we all want to go to Wall Street so let’s go, and it was a great Foundation because it further fine-tuned my ability to analyze, to meet deadlines, to have meetings in a professional setting, to work with elders, managing directors, and to find your way because in an investment banking office, there’s so many of us in the cubicles and the perimeter of the office is all the big bosses, and how do you make yourself Stand Out amongst all your peers and that’s something that I also figured out while I was there. I didn’t really like the day-to-day cubicle work, sitting in the cubicle, going out for lunch, it got really boring for me and it made me realize I really do want to be an entrepreneur. Everyone would talk around the coffee station in the kitchen when they get Dunkin Donuts, everyone standing around eating the donuts and you go back to your desk and just work again. I mean, I thought, “Do I want my boss’s job?” and no offense to very successful investment bankers, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want my boss’s job and if you don’t want your boss’s job, get out of it. Get out of the industry. And I looked at how hard they worked into the night eating dinner at the office and I wanted something more for myself, especially being a woman. I knew that even if I made it big and was an MD at one of these banks, I wouldn’t be home with my kids. I wouldn’t be at their sports games. And so I said, you know what, l will use this job as a stepping stone and I will figure out what’s my next step and I found myself constantly in my free time looking up recipes, looking up restaurants to try, reading restaurant reviews, and cooking on the weekends, and I realize that fire in me is still related to the food industry and I just was seeking out all the most tasty foods are the most interesting experiences in New York and it allowed me to really do some, I call it RND, I did RND on what I was passionate about and my job allowed me to pay for myself and support myself as a 23 year old and that built confidence, right? And my father framed my business card and he put it on his shelf and said, “Look at you, you are independent. You are an independent woman” and I think that positive reinforcement is very, very important for me. I didn’t really feel it at the time but I think it drove me to want to be further independent and make him proud and make my mom proud. And so, it’s those moments I think that really reinforced when I was a young adult to continue to search and succeed.

John: You know, you make a great, great point. There’s a lot of young people that listen and watch this show and they’re always trying to figure out what they want to do but knowing what you don’t want to do is also as important as knowing what you want to do and crossing those things off your list, as you said, you didn’t want to be your boss so that then that was easy to cross off your list so you can look elsewhere and figure out where you want it to go with your life. I think that’s such an important lesson and the common theme that I’ve seen in everything you’ve written, what you’re saying today, and what I’ve seen on you before Nadia, is that your parents were such a strong influence on you always in terms of mentoring, coaching, loving you, and giving you the confidence to keep going forward. Keep going forward. It’s great.

Nadia: Yes, and also they led by example. My mom is very feminine, hard worker, very smart, beautiful, graceful and elegant, but boy, is she strong and my father so classy, very sophisticated, I was so proud to be their kid, and I think even at a young age, they both taught me about the skill of recognizing your strengths and your weaknesses because they also raised me to be a child athlete. And so, they were very real with me about what you’re good at, what you’re not and know what you’re good at and know what you’re not good at and let’s be real about it. Let’s not devote your time to something that you’re clearly not very good at. It’s kind of a hard reality when you’re 8 years old, but they were very real with me and they gave me those tools and skills to recognize those things that I appreciate it because now I think one of my best traits as a leader is I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at and I am so lucky to have people on my team that can do the things that I’m not good at.

John: Right. Surrounding yourself with those people is the way to be successful. That’s exactly right. You know both cities. I’ve lived in both cities, I grew up in New York, but I lived in Boston as I said earlier and both are Food Cities. So when you were growing up and you said your parents own Sally Ling’s, did that create this wonderful halo around you because Sally Ling’s was the one of the big places in Boston when you were growing up?

Nadia: Oh, yeah. I felt very cool. I felt very cool. I felt so proud that we have that and my parents would let me have a friend, they thought it was really cool too. So it was a great confidence builder, even though my parents did it, I didn’t do it.

John: When you were in New York during the formative years as an investment banker and you were doing RND, did you have a favorite one or two or three restaurants that stuck out that you said, “Wow, these guys are doing it right or these people are doing it right.” Were you you blown away by any experiences in New York on the food area?

Nadia: Yes, I was blown away by the perfection of the three-star Michelin restaurants, the Jean-Georges, the Danielle [inaudible], the Eric Repairs, these famous French chefs that executed literally to perfection, a 110%. It’s like when you see it, you’re like, I don’t even know how my parents did Sally Ling’s because it felt very similar and I almost felt nostalgic when I was sitting in those five star dining rooms. And it’s amazing what people can put together and what perfection feels, tastes, looks like and how they make you feel in those restaurants. So when I made my first paycheck, I took my mom to a five-star restaurant.

John: Which was? What restaurant?

Nadia: I took her to Daniel [inaudible]. My parents were divorced so I took my dad to Eleven Madison Park, which actually later became the number one restaurant in the world.

John: That’s right. That’s right.

Nadia: Yup. Yup, but I took him there way before it was number one. It was just a very good restaurant. I think that the tasting menu is $90. Now, it’s $285. And the other restaurants that really struck me as impressive were the simple ones. There was a restaurant called, Corner Bistro in the [inaudible] District and all they serve is burgers, fries, and grilled cheese and people would wait in line out the door and down the street to eat a burger, a french fries, or grilled cheese and you literally wait in line. And when you get to the podium, you get seated. So you can’t even leave the line and in the line, they sell you their house on [inaudible] beer for like $4. So everyone’s just holding the beer in the line and you just keep drinking beers until you get to the front of the line and so you’ve already spent like 20 dollars by the time you get to the front of the line and then it’s cash only which is wow, and the burgers were unbelievable. I learned that if you do just a few things very well, people will come.

John: Isn’t that interesting? America is the land of the the big and the better, so many people and and it’s no knock on them. They’ve done a brilliant job, but everyone thinks if you’re not like Cheesecake Factory and a half thousand things on the menu and all of them are pretty darn good, you’re not doing it but you’re right. The simplicity of just two or three things, but they’re life-changing things really, they’re just delicious beyond belief then you don’t need to have a Cheesecake Factory menu to be successful.

Nadia: Yeah, and this was back in 2005, right? There was no sign on the door and no windows in the place and only if you knew, you knew, and there was no social media. Yeah no social media. Everyone knew where the best burger was, they would go there.

John: That’s right. That’s so wonderful. For our listeners and viewers who have just joined us, we’ve got Nadia Liu Spellman with us. She’s the founder of Dumpling Daughter. To find her, you go to and you can buy her wonderful book on or any local book store in your area. Nadia, so you’re done with investment banking, you’ve done the RND, you’re ready to take the next step, what happened next?

Nadia: So I realized that obviously, food was my calling and how in what way, so I decided to go back for more training so to say for more learning. And I asked my mom at the time if she would allow me to work in her restaurant, she had a very successful restaurant in Fort Lee, New Jersey so when my parents split up, my mom moved to New Jersey and opened her Sally Ling’s there and she started it in 1994 and she ended up opening it until 2012. So she had a really great run. That restaurant was running like a train on time. It was an incredible operation.

John: Same recipes?

Nadia: Same recipes, different chef, but the Sally Ling’s touch, right? She was there, she worked hard, she networked in town, all the VIPs went there like the Senator of New Jersey. She just basically took it to New Jersey. What she did in Boston with my father, she did it in New Jersey. So I said what better training camp than my own mother? And so I asked my mom if I could work for her and I moved home because I actually spend all the money I made and I said, “I need a place to live.” So I went back to my mom’s house. And I said, “I’m just going to go full throttle, learn from my parents.” Yeah, and I was with my mom. She taught me the catering. She taught me how to network. I mean, make friends that would then introduce us to more friends that we could then get business, right? It was just so brilliant what I saw her do there with her successful business and she let me be the general manager and actually at the time, the general manager said, “Well now that you’re here, I’m going to take some time off.” So he actually took a year off and he said why don’t you do it because I’ve been working so hard for like 9 years now and he took a year off really, and I was able to manage my Mom’s restaurant. During that time, I started making pros and cons lists of the restaurant, of the industry, of what I would do if I open a restaurant, I didn’t like having a full bar, I didn’t like dealing with linen companies, or doing tablecloth because the linen from the tablecloth gets stuck in the refrigeration unit, which I never knew. You have to get maintenance on your refrigerators more when you have linen in your restaurant. Also, it’s expensive to set the table every time and so I thought if I were to do this one day, this is how I would do it differently and essentially what I was doing was taking notes for a business plan. And when I decided to move back to Boston to be with my husband who proposed, he said we’re going back to Boston and I thought, “Well now I have to do something because that’s where my parents roots are. That’s where the legacy lives and I need to somehow ride those coattails. I need to continue on and celebrate that legacy that they built and I need to pay respect to what they did and how am I going to do that?” And so then that really started this intensive kind of brainstorming business plan writing, fine-tuning the business plan, clearing the vision up, so I could be very focused on what I wanted to do. And I remember when I moved back to Boston, the Boston Globe somehow reached me, they were doing a history of Chinese restaurants article and they heard that Sally Ling’s daughter is in Boston. And I told the writer that I might open a restaurant and she wrote it in the article. And when I saw it in writing I said, “I was just talking freely. Now, I have to open a restaurant?” The fact that she wrote it in there then online people were like I heard Sally Ling’s daughter is gonna open a restaurant and I thought, “Well now there’s no way out of this” and so it actually held me accountable because it was in print. But I thought about it, I said it, and then it got printed and then I felt like I had to so that was kind of funny.

John: My therapist would probably say that was all by design, that way you knew you had no way out and you were going forward no looking back.

Nadia: I think you’re right.

John: What year was that? What year was that?

Nadia: That article was written in 2012 and I opened up Dumpling Daughter in 2014.

John: How did you come up with the concept of Dumpling Daughter? Why dumplings and why this amazing, amazing, wonderful name alliteration dumpling daughter? How did you come up with all that?

Nadia: I wanted to create a simple concept. My father always told me if you have to be in the restaurant business, could you do it in a smarter way? Not like the way most Chinese do which is hundreds of items on the menu? Could you do something more like make many of the same thing and sell a lot and then copy paste those restaurants. Don’t do this fine dining style because the profit margins are so low and it requires so much care and love in there. He said, do something where if you weren’t there, it would be fine, something standardized. And that was his advice.

John: Great advice.

Nadia: He said if you did it, this is what you should do. And my mom always told me never to get into the business and so dumpling daughter started because I wanted to do something simple and delicious and that was for me, dumplings. My childhood was filled with good food, but my favorite was really going to Grandma’s house with the whole family, my aunt, uncle, and my cousins. The men would drink [foreign language] and the women would be making dumplings and then the men would play mahjong, you can here them playing. The women would be cooking the dumplings. It was that family feeling, the steaming boiling water, and the the sense of the dumplings that made me the happiest and I also didn’t know how to make dumplings myself. And so I thought, this is something we need and I need. I need accessibility to dumplings and most kids that are not Chinese weren’t fortunate enough to grow up eating dumplings on Sunday like I did and so I wanted to share this feeling, experience, the Aromas, and the flavors with other kids, other families, and that’s why I decided to open a dumpling shop. And the original idea, really was though to sell frozen dumplings in the supermarket that people could easily cook and then I got the advice from a very successful entrepreneur that I should open a restaurant and test the market first, create a brand name that people will follow you, and come up with something that is different that people will say, “Wow. These dumplings are good. The brand is great.” And then you have something to bring to Super Market buyers. She said create a brand that has a following and that was Stacy of Stacy’s Pita Chips. She said create a brand that you’re going to get a following, get feedback from your customers, and just try it out. And so I wanted to come up with a fun whimsical name that felt like childhood and I also wanted the name to represent that I was somebody’s daughter, somebody very important and cool, I wanted to show off the fact that I was their daughter, and I’ve always loved Disney since I was little and so I took Minnie Mouse as an example and said I want a girl as a dumpling to feel like Minnie Mouse, I want it to be fun, and I want all people of all backgrounds to feel welcome in this location so I played like kind of loungy, fun music. It was bright. It was red and I incorporated purple because that’s my favorite color since I was little and so just kind of digging into the core of who is Nadia, what does Nadia enjoy, and how do you want to show it to the world? And that was Dumpling Daughter’s first location.

John: Where was that in Boston?

Nadia: It was in Weston, which is my hometown where I grew up about 20 minutes drive from the city.

John: Got it. And so, mom and dad were at the grand opening, I take it?

Nadia: Well, dad passed away when I was 27 in 2009.

John: Oh, okay.

Nadia: And he left me with so many pieces of advice and it’s so interesting that the parent that dies, that’s the one that speaks louder. It’s true. When one parent is gone, it’s like you remember all the things they said and you want to take all their advice and here’s my mom alive, amazing, and she’s in the restaurant working next to me literally elbow-to-elbow helping me and when I am upset, she’s there to console me, when I’m angry, she’s there to say, “Why? Explain it to me.” It’s like I had the advice of my late father and I had the physical help and love of my mom and so I had this big strong teacher in me, in my mind, the memories and I had something real next to me and I think that gave me so much strength.

John: That’s wonderful. I think that’s so true. And I think that’s a great point but to have the real Sally Ling in person next to you, wow, what a feeling. What a feeling that must be as well. So Sally Ling was there at the opening, I take it?

Nadia: My mom, moved in with me and stayed with me I want to say 30 to 40 days, and she was with me every single second of those first 40 days and she had never cooked in a commercial kitchen. She’d been in the restaurant business for 35 years, she never cooked in the commercial kitchen and she was in my kitchen cooking the food side by side with the chefs and fulfilling the orders and it was amazing. I would look back into the kitchen and say, “I can’t believe this is happening” in a way that I felt bad that my mom was cooking in a commercial kitchen and I felt like what did I do? I think my mom’s a Chef. She could be golfing right now, she can be ball dancing in Florida, but instead she’s here cooking and wrapping specials. And actually, my mom, at the end of the night I was so tired and we were so busy and we are way busier than I ever expected or that I could even dream of and my mom said, “Nadia, you shouldn’t be crying. You should be happy that you have customers.” She said, “I’ve opened restaurants where there’s no customers. That’s when you cry.” and she said, “Stop crying. What’s the problem?” I said because I’ve made you like a line cook. I’ve made you not sit down for 8 hours. And my mom said, “I love it.” She said, “I love it”, and she really did. I could see her competitive spirit, her ability to have that [inaudible], that’s what I mean by lead by example. For the first time, I saw my mom totally differently is that she can do anything and she doesn’t get tired if she loves it and I was like, “Wow, she’s a passionate woman that woman”, and so it was incredible to see and at the time, very emotional.

John: That’s awesome. So you launched the first restaurant, is it going tour? Is it on track with the business plan? Exceeding? Below? What’s the first year like? What’s the first two years, the climb like when do you feel like I’m onto something? Or did you not have that feeling the first couple of years?

Nadia: I was so glad that I was actually right. Opening Dumpling Daughter, being Sally’s daughter really did push me into the press and the head food critic at the Boston Globe, showed up in the first month. She ate there five times. She wrote a glowing review. I’ve never read a review so amazing. I cried again, lots of tears and the line was so long that we sold out of food every day for about three weeks. Then shortly after that, we were on TV. And so the press came, and that first year was beyond my dreams. And I thought, “Wow my business plan was very aggressive.” It said I wanted to open three to five locations in Boston but with this one location, I’m really happy and so, your dreams and your goals do shift as you start the business and as the environment around you changes, things change and it was really the response to the restaurant that made me want to grow the restaurant ultimately. It was how popular it became. I thought, “We got to do more of this” and I was lucky to have an incredible team in the western restaurant. I couldn’t have done it without key people involved, the head chef and the general manager. They were able to handle this business like it was their own which allowed me to grow.

John: And the recipe for the dumplings was Grandma’s recipe, Sally Ling’s recipe or was it a different and new recipe that you came up with as a mixture of other recipes that you found along the way?

Nadia: These were all family recipes.

John: Family?

Nadia: Yup, passed down, also my mom’s. My mom had a huge influence on every dish on the menu and then the things that she didn’t understand she’d say, “Why do you want that?” and I would make it myself and show her and she’d say, “Okay.” It was really a beautiful brainstorming session over the menu and how things were going to be done but there was constant changes even in the first year. We’re constantly changing things, right? You can’t just keep it the same all the time.

John: But wasn’t that a great entrepreneur, a great entrepreneurial remains open and flexible to making adjustments to what the marketplace dictates?

Nadia: Yes. Yes, we have to evolve with the times and the pandemic was really hard for restaurant owners and we had to pivot and it’s such a challenge, all of it. Every day, there’s a new problem but there’s also a great celebration in every day. And so, it’s never the same stuff and that’s I think what is exciting about being an entrepreneur, is that no day is the same, you don’t know what to expect but at the end of the day, there’s a lot to celebrate.

John: When did you open more restaurants? When did you decide to open more restaurants?

Nadia: I opened the second restaurant in 2018, and that’s when a private equity firm invested in Dumpling Daughter and we raised a million dollars to open some restaurants. So I opened the first restaurant in 2018 that was part of the investor group.

John: Where was that?

Nadia: That was in Cambridge.

John: Okay. Down by Harvard, got it.

Nadia: Yep. Yeah, and then the second location was in Brookline near Fenway Park and that was supposed to open in March of 2020 when the world shut down.

John: So this was a group of private equity investors who had experience in the restaurant industry? How did you choose them? I’m sure you were being approached by all sorts of capital, how did you choose your capital? Because that itself can be a very important choice. Choosing your partner is sometimes more important than choosing your concept.

Nadia: It’s like choosing your landlord, right? The person that you’re going to work with, that you’re signing papers with, that’s going to help you when you’re down and celebrate you when you’re up, that’s what my mom taught me about signing with the right landlord and our investors were actually friends of our family. They were people that came to the opening night at Weston and they saw that Dumpling Daughter was very special, they did not quit asking me, and they also had success in investing in other restaurant chains so I knew that they had an incredible network and my whole life I’ve been lucky to have advisors. And so I saw it as a great opportunity to bring on a whole new network of advisors and help and so it was a no-brainer for me because I knew it could allow us to grow the company faster and with some advisory behind me that I could pick up the phone and ask questions and network myself to the right person. Shortly after we opened Cambridge, it was about one year of a great successful first year that’s when COVID hit and that’s when I had one restaurant about to open and then the other restaurant already open and I said, “Wow, these people, these investors had faith in me and they had confidence and I’m not letting them down” and it was like even more severe than if I had had my own money and opened more restaurants because I felt like they trusted me with their hard-earned money and I’m not going to let them down. There’s many restaurants that decided to just throw in the towel at that time and I didn’t want to let down the people that invested in me. And so, I really thought of different ways that I could continue to communicate with our customers, continue to build community, and in a time when people were going through a lot staying at home, I wanted to engage them. And so I started doing the virtual cooking classes which led to the book because the recipes were so good. And it also kept my mom busy.

John: So this book here, you wrote during the pandemic?

Nadia: Yes.

John: The Dumpling Daughter Heirloom Recipes and these are recipes by your mom Sally Ling, this is amazing. So you got to work with your mom during the pandemic, putting together this beautiful book?

Nadia: Yes, and we call it heirloom recipes not only because they are passed down but because I’m passing this gift to my kids and their kids and it’s meaningful for me that they will forever have my mom’s home cooking because she’s not going to be around forever and she should be celebrated and she told me her dream was to write a cookbook. And so, I wanted to fulfill that for her to the best of my abilities and so we self-published the book so we could get it done quickly.

John: It’s a gorgeous book and I recommend all for everyone to buy a copy. As good as it is for your stomach, it’s just as much fun for your eyes. It’s just so beautiful inside and the photos and the recipes are amazing. Mom still alive, Sally Ling still alive?

Nadia: Yeah.

John: What’s mom doing on a regular basis?

Nadia: Golfing in Florida.

John: That’s [inaudible] right thing. Right?

Nadia: She golfs and she cooks for her friends and her way of showing love is cooking. And so, she cooks every day. She has dinner parties. She goes out.

John: [inaudible] Is she cool? [inaudible] [crosstalk] age.

Nadia: She’s over 70.

John: Right on mom. Speaking [inaudible] second so when did you start the online business or shop online as a business?

Nadia: When the world was changing. I thought I must change with the world and bring things to people to their doorsteps. And so, I thought let’s do direct to your door, nationwide shipping so anyone can access Dumpling Daughter and I also put our sauce in the book on Amazon so that anyone could have the flavors from our home and I thought it would be just interesting to see how it went so I tried a little bit of everything and three years later, there are things that are doing very well so we’re deciding to focus on that channel of business. It’s nice to have our direct to consumer business. It gives people access to our product and our flavors, but I really enjoy sharing the dumplings through supermarkets now because I realized that we can feed way more people that way and we can live in people’s freezers, they just keep buying it, and it’s part of their their food calendar and it’s just the dreams are all coming true.

John: Dad’s vision is all coming true. You’ve created a SAS model for your dumplings, basically. Yey! for Dad. How’s that going though? I mean that’s a whole different business as we know than the restaurant business per se, how is that going? When you and your investor sit down, are you gonna do more restaurants? Are you going to be a national chain or you’re going to continue to grow the direct to consumer and the supermarket business or is it going to be a mixture of both? What’s the dream and what’s your vision now that we’re in the second quarter of 2024?

Nadia: I love the restaurants. They hold a special place in my heart. I can’t imagine a life without a restaurant. It’s a must-have in my life, and I want to take a break from opening restaurants because it’s just so expensive right now to open restaurants, but I know many people that would love to have their own Dumpling Daughter in their city. And so, I don’t discount the fact that people may want to franchise it one day and right now, I’m really focusing on consumer products. I think in order to spread the brand and to teach people about the beauty and experience of eating dumplings at home, they also can get the book. They also can get the sauce. These are all touch points for the consumers that they can learn about Dumpling Daughter. And as we grow our distribution, I would not I would not say no to opening more restaurants. But right now, we have to learn to focus so we can do things really well and thoughtfully and I want to be mindful about not growing too fast. It’s okay if there’s other dumplings on the market, I think it’s a wonderful thing that everyone’s pursuing their dreams. There’s enough room in the freezer aisle for many dumplings just like there’s many pizzas and many french fries in your freezer. There can be room for all of us and I’m just excited that the Asian food category is booming and it’s only going to get bigger and I feel like my timing is right on point and I’m really excited to see where it goes. I would love more restaurants and I would love more distribution.

John: I don’t think any wiser words were said by an entrepreneur but you don’t hear entrepreneur say that typically. Most entrepreneurs take the world as a zero-sum game. But again, you are so wise beyond wise and that, it’s not a zero-sum game. There’s room for everybody and there is room for like you said, what’s the matter with McDonald’s and Burger King and Coke and Pepsi and all different types of other [inaudible] that exists out there and how many beer brands are there? So many can do well at the same time just like you said, Dumpling Daughter [inaudible] beyond your dreams ever and they could be other dumplings down the road, but it actually just continues to prove your marketplace if other good competitors come out.

Nadia: Yeah. I really am very excited about the category and I love that the Asians were all bringing each other up and we’re taking over some freezer space and bringing more flavors to this country and I also feel how amazing it is that people are getting so diverse, their palates, and their tastes. It’s really very fun to introduce and I think every brand has their differentiation in their angle. In our angle is that because my parents always had the best quality, I have to do that and so our products are the best heritage duroc pork you can get, antibiotic-free chicken, only clean ingredients, and it is good enough for me to serve to my children. I think I feel very good about repping this brand and this product.

John: And thank you for having vegan dumplings, which I enjoy. You just brought up your children, we know Sally Ling is doing well and alive, golfing, and hosting or dinner parties down in Florida, but you also wore numerous hats. You’re wife and mom, how do you juggle?
Really, you’re the new Sally Ling. You have your own restaurants, you have your grocery brand, director consumer brand, you also have a husband and you have children. How many children do you have? And how do you juggle all the hats?

Nadia: I have two boys, three and seven and they’re amazing. They’re such good boys and luckily, so healthy and so it makes my life easier that they’re just a joy and a pleasure and I feel very, very lucky to have them because it’s a extremely full life. I’m never really stopping and when I do stop, it’s really wonderful to enjoy them and I take pleasure in scheduling time with my kids first. So when I look at my schedule, I know that I’m putting them on the bus or I’m taking them to school and that I have an hour and a half in the morning with them and then at night, I go home, we have a nanny who cooks incredible food, she helps me to cook the food, I sit down to dinner with family at 6:00, and I put the kids to bed. So everyday, I have three hours at least and if I have a gap in my schedule, I might go home and see them again. That’s the freedom of being an entrepreneur that I wanted. And so, it’s a lot but if you time manage yourself well, it’s all good. It’s overwhelming in a great way, I like it.

John: Yeah You grew up with really legendary parents in many ways and they were not only legends in what they did and great at what they did and iconic and what they did, but they also were sounds like legendary parents. So you it’s a big shadow, mom’s shadow, dad’s shadow. how do you work with that burden and responsibility of not only being a great role model to your children as an entrepreneur but also as a parent because the words of wisdom that both parents have given you and and also lived out by by example, how does that weigh on you? And do you ever see history repeating itself in terms of your children wanting to work in your Dumpling Daughter restaurants, you bringing them in, and giving them the joy and the feeling of presence and importance of my mom owns this place but also the joy of running around the kitchen and enjoying the food and the and the camaraderie of the other employees there?

Nadia: I think with all the words of wisdom from my parents, what I really take away is that they want us to be happy. They want their kids to be happy. And now as a parent, I just want my kids to be happy. But how, right? How do you make yourself happy because you’re the only person that’s responsible for yourself and your own happiness and how do we how do we instill that in our children? And how did they teach that to me? And how can I carry that on? And it really is doing things that you’re passionate about. When you’re passionate about something, you’re naturally good at it and it’s like no matter how much you work on it, it’s not that hard because it’s natural. It comes from within and I would say, I encourage my children to be authentically them. Whatever is the blueprint within their souls, their bodies, who they are, just be that because we’re all built in a different way. We all have something to offer, every single person. So how are you going to dig deep and figure out what it is that you have to offer in this world and that comes from the passion and I think that another big lesson was discipline, being disciplined in general because being discipline leads to giving yourself freedom, and I want to install the discipline in my kids, understanding when to start, when to stop, how to set goals, I think that that’s what weeds consistent discipline and consistent good habits. Take discipline and that leads to the happiness and the freedom because when you have freedom and health, you have everything.

John: It’s true. Do the boys come into the restaurants on a regular basis with you?

Nadia: They do. They love it. They ask for it and that makes me very happy.

John: Do you see the same joy and delight in their faces and their behavior that you had at the same age going in Sally Ling’s?

Nadia: More actually because their friends have the Dumpling Daughter keychains, right? Even at age 7, they ask their parents to send them to school with Dumpling Daughter in their lunchbox so it’s more childhood than Sally Ling’s was and so the kids really catch on to it. And I love that because that was the goal, is to share this childhood experience, and now the children want it.

John: I love it. Just give a shout out on what supermarket chains carry your great products so our listeners and viewers can go enjoy them in their own home and enjoy them with their families as well.

Nadia: We are very proud to be carried at Market Basket [inaudible] Brothers, we will be in all the stop and shops by the end of this summer. We’re going to be in Big Y in the spring. In New York, where at Citarella and Fairway, select Shop Rights. We’re looking forward to being in Shaw’s Star Market and hopefully, Hannaford’s so everywhere in Boston and New England I think it’s my responsibility to be in because we are Boston Brand.

John: And people can buy also online direct-to-consumer off your website dumpling

Nadia: Yeah, and my dream is really to be offered in club one day too, right? BJ’s, Costco, these types of clubs that I so diligently shop at.

John: My money’s on you. I believe that will happen. Sally Ling’s daughter is going to make that happen, I believe it. And also, buy this delicious book right here Dumpling Daughter Heirloom Recipes by Sally Ling herself. This is a beautiful book in and also at book stores around America. Nadia Liu Spellman, you are a rockstar, your story, your journey is just beyond the American dream. I wish you continued success. I hope to eat in one of your restaurants where I’m in Boston the next time and meet you maybe in person even but I just wish you all the success that you dream of and continued good health and thank you for bringing this delicious food to the United States and to the world hopefully one day and thank you for just making the world a little bit taste better and thank you for your time today. You’re always welcome back on the Impact podcast.

Nadia: Thank you for your excellent questions. I had a really good time.

John: This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, engage is the go-to-spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, livestreams and much more. For more information on engage or to book talent today, visit This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit