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nan-xiang-long-bao.png Nan Xiang
Nan Xiang is bringing its iconic soup dumplings to new locales.

How Michelin-recommended Nan Xiang Soup Dumplings became an emerging East Coast restaurant brand

After 16 years as an independent eatery in Flushing, Queens, Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao began expanding into new markets and new store formats

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao — known for being one of the top-rated spots for soup dumplings in New York City — was a Michelin-recommended eatery with just one location in Flushing, Queens for 16 years until the COVID-19 pandemic gave them the idea for a growth spurt. Now, several years later, Nan Xiang is opening its eleventh location and has expanded into new store formats and markets outside of New York City, including Boston and Philadelphia.

“It was actually the COVID shutdowns that spurred the idea of expanding,” Michael Ma, spokesperson for Nan Xiang, said.  “The Flushing restaurant brought in people from all over the world…and then the entire world shut down and we’d see reviews and social posts of people saying, ‘I can’t wait to get back to Nan Xiang.’ So, we created a way for customers to enjoy our soup dumplings at home.”

From there, Nan Xiang reworked its soup dumpling recipe to pre-make, freeze, and distribute dumplings to customers from New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, and Connecticut who missed the famous soup dumplings when restaurants were closed during the pandemic.

“We would drive out to a centralized location, and customers would meet us in a random parking lot to just grab a bag of soup dumplings that they missed so much,” Ma said. “And that’s what made us realize this would work as an express concept.”

In 2023, Nan Xiang opened its first few express locations (the first was in Forest Hills, Queens-- not too far from the brand’s original location). Currently, the restaurant has five full-service locations and six express versions, including its latest opening on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.

Both the full-service dining restaurants and express locations offer delivery and takeout, but the express restaurants are much smaller at 1,200-1,500 square feet. The company also created an app around the time that the first express stores opened last year to keep up with customer demand and offer regular promotions.  The Nan Xiang app connects to all major third-party platforms for delivery and pickup options.

“Express is in the name, but it’s not as quick as walking into a McDonald’s, ordering something and then it’s in your hand within a few minutes,” Ma said.

The team at Nan Xiang found that the express format works best in busier locations or near universities where college students will want to take advantage of ordering soup dumplings quickly during late-night hours. Full-service restaurants, meanwhile, work better in larger spaces in more family-oriented neighborhoods.

Nan Xiang has grown very quickly from being a one-off restaurant to a multi-unit brand in the span of less than two years and has no plans of slowing down. The company has unofficially launched a franchising program, with interest from potential franchisees coming from Chicago, Seattle, California, and Florida. The first franchised location opened in Boston this year (with two more on the way in the Massachusetts city), and more are currently under construction in Houston and North Carolina. The long-term goal, Ma said, is to “hit every major city on the map.”

Until now, Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao owned every location it operated, and most restaurants were situated near the brand’s hub in the New York tri-state area. To accommodate locations further away and maintain the integrity of the brand, Ma said that they opened a commissary in New Jersey that makes the dumplings fresh, freezes them, and transports them to locations around the company. To make this new process work, he said they had to tweak the recipe to make sure it tastes almost the same as when it’s made fresh in-house. For example, the dumpling skin is thicker, so it holds up after being defrosted and doesn’t fall apart.

“We want to bring our soup dumplings and the quality that Nan Xiang fans are looking for to our fans, so people don’t have to travel to New York to have them,” Ma said. “We have this exciting opportunity to bring the soup dumplings to the people who were coming from across the country to visit us.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

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