Chinatown native Cynthia of Wonton in a Million has taken our community by storm with her adorable and punny dim sum cards. Whether you were raised in Chinatown, visited often, or come back once in a while to see family and for nostalgic purposes, these cards will take you on a trip down memory lane. We were able to chat with this local artist/visionary about her story.
1. We absolutely LOVE your punny dimsum cards! Please tell us the story – how did it all start? What has been the reaction so far?
I love dimsum, and I love puns, and I love stationery. The idea to make punny dimsum cards occurred to me one day while I was waiting to get… what else?… dimsum. I was picking up takeout at Oriental Garden, and I remember distinctly saying out loud to my boyfriend… “Wouldn’t it be cool if there were greeting cards… with dimsum puns?!?… Wouldn’t it be cool if… I made them?”
That night, I went home and, like any good internet citizen with an idea, googled all forms of variations of “punny dimsum cards.” I found some really cool people working on some really cool dimsum-related stuff (check out these plushies! And these comics!). I even found some dimsum cards from Queenie’s Cards, which has become one of my favorite cardmakers. But it was one of those classic situations where I wanted something to exist in a certain way, and it did not. So I decided to make them.
The reaction has been incredible, to say the least. Because I really had no expectations for this at all. I thought maybe my friends would get a kick out of them. That I would make a few cards, list them on Etsy, and then move onto another project. But my roadmap for Wonton In A Million is now a few months long. And growing by the minute. I’m really excited to see where this goes!
2. You’re a Chinatown native, just like us. What was it like growing up in Chinatown for you? What kinds of memories do you have? What does Chinatown mean to you?
I remember Saturday Chinese classes followed by games of hide and seek at the factory where my mom was a seamstress. I remember fishballs drizzled in hoisin and peanut butter sauce and I remember my favorite days were when my mom would let my brother and me have some on our way home. I remember when I had my first CICF ice cream cake!! And it kind of blew my mind because I realized that not all cakes had to be spongy and yellow…
Chinatown has a very special place in my heart. It remains a center of gravity for me: my favorite restaurants are here, my dad manages a restaurant here, I work near here. But most importantly, I trace a life that I love back to here, because it was where my parents lived when they came to America, where they worked 10 hour days and 6 day weeks to afford to buy our family a house in Brooklyn. It was where I learned what it meant to sacrifice. What it meant to be thankful.
Chinatown was my first home – and I’ll always love it.
3. What is like being an Asian female entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges that you face?
I think a lot of my challenges for now are mental: getting over the imposter syndrome, believing that what I am making is valuable, learning how to convey that to people. Learning how to think bigger. I’ve been really lucky in that the reception to this project has been so positive. There must have been some untapped demand for dimsum merchandise.
But I think it may also end up being a relatively niche market. So my challenge right now is how to make it so that that is not the case. I’ve been thinking about this problem for a while: because my dad manages Oriental Garden in Manhattan’s Chinatown, from which there has been a slow exodus to the Chinatowns in the outer boroughs, I’ve been interested in ways to introduce Chinese cuisine (and dimsum) to a broader NYC audience. Last month, I hosted a dimsum tasting with my friends over at Komeeda. In a way, Wonton In A Million is a product of my interest in this problem, and an attempt at solving it.
4. Who has been your support network? What kind of advice do you have for younger entrepreneurs and artists?
There’s a saying that goes “Done is better than perfect.” I’d modify that a bit to be “Launched is better than perfect.” I’ve had so many moments working on this where I find myself thinking that “I just need to…” I just need some business cards. I just need a website (I get caught up in this a lot when I’m starting things because I am a web designer by trade). I just need some better photos.
But there’s so much momentum to be had from having your creation out there in the world. I’ve had friends and total strangers bring this to places I never thought it would go. I’m working with a bakery all the way out in California right now to turn my dimsum characters into macarons. Two months ago, I printed t-shirts with one of my favorite designs on them (the Bao totem) for me and my boyfriend to wear to Coachella, and friends (and strangers!) started asking me where they could buy them, so I just launched a campaign to get them printed in bulk (get a free Father’s Day card with every t-shirt with FREECARD :)).
So while I could still really use some better photos, I also have a lot of other exciting things that I want to do for Wonton In A Million now, and friends who have invested their time and money in what I’m doing. They’re what helps me get up early in the mornings. I think especially when you’re working on a project that isn’t your full time job – that relies solely on your discipline to survive – it’s critical that you figure out how to guarantee you stay motivated.
5. What does the future of your business look like? What are some special projects that you are working on that you can share with us?
I’m hesitant to imagine – because when I started Wonton In A Million 3 months ago I had no idea that it could even look the way it looks now! But I am working on a ton of projects right now that make me really giddy inside: t-shirts (on sale now until June 30th!), dimsum designs in MACARON form (two of my very, very favorite things together), stickers (I used to collect stickers so this probably excites me way more than it should). I’m also currently looking into vending at some local New York City flea markets. Eventually – and I feel like this is probably a bit down the line – I want to make a comic strip or an animated short. I’ve always wanted to get into filmmaking.
6. What are your top 5 favorite dim sum restaurants in Chinatown, NYC?
I love this question! Because there was a period of a few months last year where I embarked on a quest to eat at a different Chinatown dimsum restaurant every week. Here were my findings:
1. Oriental Garden – My dad has been the manager here for over 30 years, and while that might make me biased, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. 😉 Still the freshest ingredients, the juiciest dumplings, and the most heavenly, custard-filled Bo Lo Bao I have been able to find.
2. Palace 88 – I found myself at Palace 88 one day when my friends and I were especially hungry, naively tried to get a 12pm table at Golden Unicorn, and were met with an hour wait. Palace 88 is one block over inside the mall underneath the Manhattan Bridge, is mostly frequented by locals, has solid dimsum – and the longest I’ve waited there at prime dimsum hour has been 15 minutes.
3. Dimsum Go Go – You order by checking items off a paper here. So what I love about this place is that all the food comes out at the same time.
4. Sunshine 27 – $2.50 for everything! And that’s why it’s always packed.
5. Golden Unicorn – While Oriental Garden has Bo Lo Bao’s (pineapple buns) with an egg custard filling inside, Golden Unicorn is the only place I’ve found that has actual pineapple inside their pineapple buns.
Cynthia has offered a 20% off promo code for Christina of Chinatown and Chinatown Ice Cream Factory readers and fans. Enter ICECREAM when you check out on Wonton In A Million!