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Why Frozen Dumpling Shop Steamies Opened During the Coronavirus Crisis

“It was a tough decision for a small business that already has a bunch of debt,” co-owner Leslie Chau explained. “So we had to open.”

Frozen dumplings from Steamies
Frozen dumplings from Steamies
Steamies [Official]
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

The popular farmers market dumpling stand Steamies had been working on opening its physical store in Highland since last fall, and co-owners Cindy Chee and Leslie Chau weren’t going to let the novel coronavirus pandemic stop them — although it came close.

“We were scared, obviously,” said Chau, for health reasons as well as concern over whether there would even be customers. Austin officials ordered all restaurant dining rooms to shutter on March 17 and on March 26 followed that with a “stay home work safe” order, though takeout and delivery service is able to continue. “It was a tough decision for a small business that already has a bunch of debt,” Chau explained, “so we had to open.”

Thus, Steamies’ dumplings must be sold. Luckily, Steamies’ service model — to-go frozen dumplings — is still considered an essential business at this time because it provides food to the city.

Steamies’ opening on Wednesday, March 25, was very busy. “We’re totally overwhelmed, to be honest,” Chau said, “because we’re lucky that people want frozen dumplings and stock up.”

But Steamies’ supply chain, Chau added, “is completely impacted,” from the lack of large quantities of necessarily ingredients to the inability to sell planned merchandise. As a result, there’s limited availability of its popular soup dumplings, which now sell out quickly. Likewise, there is no art on the store’s walls, and Chau and Chee had to rope in a friend to design the package labels for their frozen dumplings.

In order to fulfill online orders, Chau, who also works in IT, had to build a website in a matter of days. To minimize in-person contact, orders now must be placed online for pickup with curbside service. Once people arrive at the store, they send a text message to the team, who then leave the orders on a table on the sidewalk.

“Zero interaction,” Chau explained.

For now, Steamies’ hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.


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