Eric Zhou, owner of Chicago dumpling darling Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings in Chinatown—the unfussy cafe beloved for its soupy, hand-pressed, Northern Chinese-style dumplings—is preparing to debut his second outlet. While he had hoped to launch JIAO, a quick-serve spinoff of QXY in the Loop last month, he now says that the place should be up and running no later than September 10. “[T]he kitchen equipment takes longer time to deliver from China,” he explains.
Zhou spent $1.5 million to renovate a former 3,800-square-foot clothing store at 18 S. Wabash Avenue into a casual dumpling den ready to feed 500 customers per day, both dine-in and take-out. We “put a lot of emphasis on improving ... efficiency,” states Zhou, referencing a proprietary ordering system he developed that speeds up the kitchen flow, ensuring customers score fresh dumplings within five minutes of ordering. Zhou is also excited about a new phone app he helped create, which enables customers to place an order from home or the office, and pick up their meal at JIAO without waiting in any lines.
But the pressing question is, will QXY’s famed lamb and coriander dumplings grace JIAO’s menu? Of course. Zhou picked QXY’s eight most popular dumplings (pork and cabbage; lamb and coriander; beef and onion; chicken and mushroom; shrimp, leek and egg; zucchini, vermicelli and wood ear mushroom; crab roe and pork; and truffle), and each will be prepped either steamed or pan-fried. JIAO will also offer two to three limited seasonal dumplings.
Those who have frequented QXY post renovation at the end of last year will have noticed the eatery’s expanded tea selection. QXY has since launched its own CHA-branded tea line, and JIAO will, too, serve those organic brews. But Zhou adds that he will also offer “a unique milk tea called Skyline,” which sounds like his version of cheese tea—a trend that has overtaken Asia during the last half decade—made with skim milk and “premium cheese” (tea shops often use cream cheese) layered atop a green, black, flowering, or oolong tea base, made either salty or sweet per the customer’s desire.
In terms of aesthetics, not totally dissimilar from QXY’s linear, blonde wood-bedecked, minimalist aesthetic, JIAO will embody a similar look, if only on a larger scale. “JIAO’s interior design is a beautiful marriage between Chinese and Western culture,” says Zhou, who adds that his team recreated famed Song dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan’s ‘Along the River During the Qingming Festival’ painting, which spans the length of one wall. And those who pay close attention will notice ancient Chinese architectural elements like dougong (wooden brackets), window holes, tenon joints, and a sloped roof.
And JIAO, is just one out of a cluster of new dumpling houses Zhou plans to debut in the future. Says restaurateur, “We plan to open another three to four spots in Chicago’s downtown area in three years,” with an ambition to expand to O’Hare International Airport in 2021.
As a brand, JIAO strives to bring a progressive approach to Chinese cuisine through modern interior design, efficient service, and a seamless management system, innovative technology, and sustainability practices. “But for food, we still stick to offering the most authentic flavor and highest quality food,” exclaims Zhou.