I met Allan Tea through his ties with another restaurant group. His newest concept was under wraps for months, but it looks as though Paper Lantern is slowly (but surely) nearing completion over at Irvine's Diamond Jamboree. When he's not working on his restaurant portfolio, you can find him at events like OCAPICA'S Tastemakers of Orange County 2.0. I caught up with Allan right after he returned from vacation (Or was it a research trip?) for this week's interview.
Where does the restaurant name come from?
We wanted to capture the essence of traditional dumpling restaurants in China that always have paper lanterns up, and thought this was the best tribute to that idea.
What were the challenges to opening a storefront?
Largest challenge was working with the existing space. It's really small, with only about 1,100 square feet. Trying to fit seating and kitchen space in a restaurant that small has been extremely challenging.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Vietnamese food. Garden Grove and Westminster have some of the best Vietnamese food you can find. It's not only about pho, but there are other specialties like Vietnamese baked catfish that I enjoy regularly.
Best culinary tip for the home cook.
Start with the best quality ingredients. Shopping at 99 Ranch Market can offer some of the freshest cuts of meats and seafood at an affordable price.
How does Paper Lantern differ from other concepts?
Most dumpling concepts are mom and pop sit-down restaurants. And Paper Lantern is a fast-casual restaurant that focuses on serving dumplings in a casual and friendly environment.
Will you be serving anything else in addition to dumplings? How about beer and wine?
No beer and wine for now. In addition to dumplings, we will also have other traditional Chinese comfort foods like beef wraps, sesame noodles, spicy wontons and more.
Favorite places to eat
Breakfast, Break of Dawn; Lunch, A&J Cafe; Dinner, Badmaash.
How did you meet your business partners? And how did the idea for Paper Lantern come about?
We're childhood friends that all happened to have a love for food. With my experience in the restaurant industry, and Kenny's connections with Mama Lu's, we knew the idea of a fast-casual dumpling place would be the next big thing.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up not far away in a small town called Walnut. I still live there now, but I'm attracted to Orange County because of the opportunities.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
I wasn't the most well-behaved kid growing up, but I was fortunate to come home every day to really delicious food.
So what was your favorite meal?
Cambodian Red Curry. My parents were immigrants of Cambodia, and mom cooked this a lot at home. I have my own version, but it's not as good as my mom's.
I heard you enjoy off-roading; do you go anywhere in particular?
I love driving in general, whether it's on a mountain road or in the desert.
Last movie watched:
I love watching brainless comedies; last movie I watched was Snatched.
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You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Last thing you looked up online:
How to run a restaurant.
Would profession would you like to try if you weren't in this industry?
Professional automotive racing.
Paper Lantern Dumpling House will open at 2730 Alton Pkwy, Ste 101, Irvine, (949) 748-8064; www.paperlanterndumpling.com.