Carrie Liu first learned to fold dumplings when she was 12 years old.
Her parents owned a dumpling restaurant in the northern China city of Harbin – twin city to Edmonton. Liu said that’s where she not only learned the art of homemade dumplings, but she also saw the grit it took to build a small business.
“They worked really hard, and they just they just kind of took a leap of faith,” she said.
Little did she know at the time, the ingredients were being put together for her to take a leap of faith of her own with Calgary’s Bamboo Dumplings.
Liu studied business administration with the idea that one day she would use those skills for her own operation. She spent 12 years as an IT business analyst before being laid off four years ago.
Looking for something new, Liu first studied yoga. But then it was a trip to Manhattan and a stop at an authentic noodle house with her parents that triggered her own business idea.
“I just thought there needs to be real dumplings in Calgary,” she said.
From there, Liu signed up for a food safety course, joined forces with her younger brother and set her sights on the business of providing handmade, authentic dumplings for Calgarians.
Canadians have a different dumpling palate
At first, Liu peddled the homemade dumplings at farmers markets and seasonal trade shows.
The first market she attended was in November 2017.
Liu said she’s a bit conservative, so the businesses evolved slowly. She’s been perfecting her family’s dumpling recipe based on feedback from customers.
The recipe is slightly different from how dumplings would be made in China, Liu said.
“There are a couple different things, like the ingredients. I would have say certain ingredients in China are probably a little bit too strong for the palate of Caucasians,” she said.
Plus, the dumplings here are served pan-fried. In China, they’re often just boiled and eaten. Leftover dumplings are then fried up.
While Liu had tweaked the recipe and saw success on the local market circuit, COVID-19 hit. That limited sales opportunities.
“Basically, that was a force to pivot the business – to get into two independent grocery stores and to get my own online platform,” she said.
“We needed to be able to reach more customers.”
Satisfying the hunger to grow
Right now, Liu is still perfecting the production of the dumpling itself. While she doesn’t make the dumpling wrap, every dumpling is finished by hand.
She’s been looking for a dumpling machine for a couple of years now, but hasn’t found the right one.
Production is something she’s been thinking about as she charts the course for Bamboo Dumplings. That, along with perfecting the business model, is why she’s joined the Alberta Yield program.
Alberta Yield is a partnership between Platform Calgary, TEC Edmonton and Bioenterprise to boost start-ups in the agri-tech and food tech industries in Alberta.
Liu has the business admin background, she has the know-how passed down from her parents, now’s the time to move the business forward.
“I’ve been kind of trying to work on my business model. I want to kind of have a sustainable business model, a roadmap, to know exactly in the next three years or five years, where the business heading,” she said.
She’d like to evolve the model to serve other businesses – like grocery stores, or perhaps restaurants. Then, Liu said she would explore other foods.
“More customers have started asking, “what do you pair the dumplings with,” she said.
Ideally, Liu wants to share good food with people. She said in China, gatherings with family and friends are around a dinner table. She wants them to enjoy the company and the fare.
“That’s what I really enjoy – to share the best food with people,” Liu said.