IRVINE Calif. — When Fen Yi Chen went into the dumpling business, he was working a bank sales job in New York practicing recipes in his mother’s restaurant.

His plan? Reinvent the dumpling by creating a vast universe of new options. Without a culinary background, Chen had to start from scratch. He’d never wrapped dumplings before and wasn’t sure what fillings would work.

What You Need To Know

  • Owners of food truck Mad Dumplings are opening a new brick and mortar store in Irvine located at University Town Center 

  • The restaurant is expected to open in late March or early April

  • Tentative hours for the new store are 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

  • The store will serve beer from local breweries along with macaroni and cheese dumplings and sides like Bulgogi and waffle fries

Fast forward nearly six years, and Chen is about to open Mad Dumplings, a brick and mortar addition to his already popular food truck business.

The new location is scheduled to open in late March or April at University Town Center across from the University of California, Irvine.

These featured mad scientist creations include fillings with macaroni and cheese. Another offering is deep fried, unmistakable departures from familiar local dumpling eateries like Din Tai Fung.

“We’re not going to be a mom and pop with pork and cabbage. We’re trying to create our own lane and come up with these dumpling flavors no one else has,” he said. “When we come up with a dumpling flavor, we make sure no one else has it.”

Chen and his business partner Edwin Lee have spent nearly six years serving their dumplings at special events and outside Orange County breweries. They were even invited on a Food Network show hosted by Andrew Zimmern.

The pair won “best food truck in Southern California” for their 2018 appearance. 

Now they’re expanding from their mobile beginnings. The motivation is space, and a fixed location where new customers can find them.

While Chen used to make his own dough, now he buys already rolled in dumpling wrappers, allowing him to scale his operation as he thinks bigger.

Chen and Lee have turned the traditional dumpling on its head, a mission they’re determined to continue. Over the years he estimates the pair has played with 20 different flavors, narrowing the truck’s selection down to just four. One of them is a chicken and pepper jack cheese dumpling that is then run through an egg wash, covered in cornflakes, and deep fried. Served alongside them is a cilantro aioli sauce, one for four signature sauces customized for each dumpling.

For the other dishes on the menu, Chen just followed his stomach.

“The stuff on our menu is stuff that myself and Edwin love to it,” Chen said. “It’s as simple as that.”

That’s how waffle fries and Bulgogi managed to make the menu. 

That menu, which also includes a mac and cheese dumpling, will largely stay the same. Only he’ll get to experiment again with extra kitchen space. Chen said while the sides will be the same, he plans on adding four new dumplings including another pan fried offering and another deep fried one. He’s also looking into a vegan dumpling.

“We want to expand to make sure we’re friendly to everyone on campus,” he said.

The plaza, which includes a host of other restaurants, shopping, and a movie theater, is a common stop for college students looking for a late-night snack.

Chen thinks Mad Dumplings will interest that crowd, and plans to include a curated beer list offering options from the local brewery scene he’s become so familiar with.

“The plaza has everything going for it,” he said. “It’s a huge step for us.”