Austin eagerly awaited the launch of Old Thousand, East Side’s new Chinese restaurant with cocktails, last week. The eatery focuses on Chinese-American food for dine-in and take out while offering a comfortable and fun atmosphere for everyone, from residents to restaurant industry members.
Old Thousand comes to Austin by way of the SMGB Hospitality group, with partners from Uchi, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill, St. Philip, and other noted restaurants. They batted around the idea of a Chinese restaurant for a while. It came to fruition when the the former Mijo’s space on East 11th Street became available nine months ago, kicked into gear June, and quickly turned it around for its November opening.
SMGB has more restaurants up their collective sleeves, starting with New York-style pizzeria PS 35 up in Round Rock with former 40 North dough slinger Clint Elmore at the helm, and many others not yet pegged down in the suburb, like a Southern small plates restaurant and whiskey bar and an American bar and grill.
Eater sat down with chefs James Dumapit and David Baek, and beverage director Dahl Smith, and several of the SMGB partners — Benneth Cachila, Larry Perdido, Christian Romero — to discuss the founding of the restaurant, the mission of the menu (learn what New Austin-Chinese food means, and it’s not fusion), and how
How did Old Thousand come to be?
Benneth Cachila: "Larry [Perdido and I] would repeatedly talk about concepts we would want to do next when the time comes. One of them was Chinese food, because there is no good place where you can grab Chinese food, dumplings and cocktails late at night.”
Larry Perdido: "The neighborhood dictated what the offering was here.”
Cachila: “[James Dumapit and David Baek] were the young, talented, promising guys that we've always had a relationship with. Chinese was a genre they weren't very comfortable in, but we thought the food should feel homey. These guys cooked the best memorable family meals at Uchi and Uchiko.”
David and James, how did you approach the menu?
David Baek: "I see it as New Austin-Chinese food, or a new generation of Austin-Chinese food. Me and James grew up in Austin as cooks and as chefs. The food has very authentic flavors, but we use a lot of local vegetables and meat. It is not fusion, but we have fun twisting things up.
What do you mean by New Austin-Chinese food?
James Dumapit: "Austin cuisine has been so ingrained in us. I think we deliberately avoid being a fusion restaurant, but also being an authentic Chinese restaurant, because we just don't have the lens for that. What we do have a lens for is the Asian-American palate, and filtering Chinese food through the lens of our shared experiences as first-generation Asian Americans. We grew up eating Chinese food, both traditional and this Chinese-American amalgamation. We've taken notes from both of those genres, and made it something totally new that is not necessarily like five-spiced tacos.”
"We have a noodle dish that eats like carbonara, but that was completely not deliberate — it just came together that way. That is the best kind of fusion, the fusion of calling upon this shared experience and the history of practice. That makes is so much more real than pizza with Chinese sausage on it instead of calabrese sausage."
I know you’ve got chicken feet on the menu, too.
Dumapit: "What we want to do is have a little of column A and a little of column B to show people it's not that scary to eat chicken feet. We have it as a special because the reception has been a little hesitant. People who have ordered it have been over the moon about it. Having people take that leap with us is one of our main goals. We will hold your hand, that's fine. One of our manifestos is trying to make it less taboo."
Tell me about the beverage program at Old Thousand.
Dhal Smith: "The drinks are whimsical, colorful, a little bit assertive. Chinese food is salt, sweet, sour, spicy — very sensory, so that was something I wanted to impart into the cocktail program. Rather than just making cocktails that people want to drink for the sake of drinking, the cocktails are made to go with Chinese food.”
How do you see Old Thousand fitting into the Austin scene?
Christian Romero: "My hope is to bring people in with the idea of familiar dishes, but take them somewhere new and interesting, beyond what they think a neighborhood Chinese place could be. We hope it comes a go-to hangout, where people can come for a bunch of different reasons. This isn't a special event place, but it could be. It could be just a hangout after work or it could be a great dim sum/brunch restaurant. Hopefully you come a couple times a week. It is that kind of place that hits on a lot of different levels."
Dumapit: "I'd like for this place to be a fixture of the community. For a long time, especially this block, there is so much history as far as blues music goes, and obviously Franklin's Barbecue, Paperboy, and everybody loves Quickie Pickie. Five decades ago, this block was the place to be, and there has been a rebirth of it. My hope is to fill that lineage for many years."
- East Side's Most Anticipated Chinese Restaurant Is Almost Here [EATX]
- All Coverage of Old Thousand [EATX]
Kali Venable transcribed the interview.