Xiao Chi Jie – shortened sometimes to XCJ for convenience – is Chinese for “Street Food Avenue,” an apt name for the brand that began as a dumpling restaurant only to expand to e-commerce during COVID, say co-founders Jen Liao and Caleb Wang.
The venture was a brainstorming session about getting the street food they loved in China to the United States.
“The original intention was a larger food hall in either Seattle or San Francisco, where we could have our favorite foods,” Jen says. “It was born out of a selfish desire for us to be able to go eat those all the time. … And not until COVID did we start to do more of the DTC frozen products. And that was born out of COVID circumstances.”
Business plummeted 95 percent when COVID hit, Caleb says.
“You don’t want to see your passion project go under, or you don’t want to furlough employees,” Caleb says.”So we had the idea, what if we decide to ship soup dumplings locally? This seems like something that people might want. And so, we started setting up the infrastructure. It turns out there was a lot of demand for that, and then kind of one step led to another.”
The venture was quite different than the pair – now married – had in the start. Jen was in San Francisco working in health tech; Caleb was in New York working in finance. When the restaurant opened in Seattle, a third partner and the chef were the only day-to-day workers at the store.
The pair says they also understood the risks of how the business relationship could impact their personal relationship.
“Early on, we already had felt like our relationship was long term, and so there was some trust there that this wasn’t going to be a total risk going into business together necessarily,” Jen says. “It probably also helps that we had other partners involved, so it wasn’t just the two of us working on it and accountable to each other.”
In Part 1, Jen and Caleb talk about:
* Gratitude for family and friends who helped out at the start of the business when they underestimated the customer volume.
* The genesis of the idea for Chinese street food in the U.S.
* How the idea expanded to DTC during COVID.
* Their original career paths.
* How their personal relationship affected the business relationship and vice versa.
* How Caleb’s family history in restaurants and startups helped ease many anxieties over the venture.
For more on Xiao Chi Jie, visit: https://thexcj.com/
This episode is brought to you by Ordergroove.
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