What strikes you first about Oliver is his wonderful big smile. He leans in, attentively when he listens and flavours his presence with a steady warmth. You need to be an optimist to work in the hospitality business as there are many peaks to climb as Oliver details later in the article.
Oliver’s real name is Wei-Zhihong, in China they put the family name first. He arrived in Ireland four years ago. The Irish Chinese community is estimated to be around 60,000. Oliver emigrated for three reasons, “Ireland is an English speaking country and this was important to me, in China we learn English as a second language in school. I also had a friend, Vincent, living here and finally because Ireland has the healthiest food.” Food is an integral part of Oliver’s life but it’s attachment to him was not always obvious to him.
He studied acting in university and as he approached graduation he was smothered with anxiety about what to do next. “I wasn’t very comfortable with acting. When I was about to graduate I was nervous and concerned because I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wasn’t very confident then, for the whole year I was just living in fear.” The reason why he was feeling this way is due to the Chinese way of doing business. You need to have a good relationship with people in your industry, he had none in acting, in order to succeed plus there is the whole culture of gift giving, you can read more about here. He wanted to go somewhere where he could be in control of his destiny.
Making The Perfect Dumpling
Vincent is a chef, it’s something that runs in his family, his father is a famous chef in his home city in China. After a short time brainstorming they decided to set up a dumplings business called Asian Artisan Food as they saw a great opportunity here. Oliver recalled how as a child he used to make dumplings with his grandparents. “They’d eat dumplings twice a week. In China we have a saying, the nicest food is dumplings. We also say the most comfortable way to eat dumplings is to be lounging on a couch!”
They started to experiment with different ingredients until they got their recipe perfect. The business started out of the humble confines of their kitchen in their apartment. “At the beginning it was really hard. 5 kilos of dumplings took us about a day to make as we had no storage space so we were limited by how much we could make at any one time. We didn’t have labels, we didn’t even have a company name! All of the time I was thinking what am I doing! One minute I’m like Vinny we should just give up with this and then the next minute we get a phone call from a restaurant looking for us to supply them.”
Growing The Business
In time they moved their business into the food business incubator, Newmarket Kitchen. Now they supply twenty Asian restaurants, “most of our customers are regulars because they know the taste and they want more.” Oliver is very honest about the reality of their business. “Vincent and I work really hard, we put in thirteen hour days, seven days a week. But I believe once you work hard God will help you.” His work ethic was instilled from his parents. “My family told me that I have to be a nice person. Since I was little my mum taught to work hard, and not to be lazy. I believe that’s a good way to raised.”
They recently passed a gruelling Irish food standard process that now allows them to export their dumplings. It took them six months of form filling and inspections to get there, Oliver beams at their success, “the Irish food safety standard is one of the highest standards in the world, Canada shares the same top level.” This certificate means that they can expand the business abroad and in time realise their dream of building a dumpling making factory! However Oliver is pragmatic, “we’re doing everything slowly, we don’t want to rush things.”
Easier Doing Business In China V Ireland
He loves doing business in Ireland because it’s easier and, “in Ireland a single person is one unit, in China for example you have to do a lot of work after your work day. You have to be sociable within a circle in order to do business.” That’s not to say that he has shunned the Chinese community in Dublin, they have embraced Asian Artisan Food’s dumplings. Getting their seal of approval is very valuable to them.
“Irish people are more open to trying new things,” he smiles. He is eager for Irish people to try real Chinese food. Their initial market research taught them that they are the only dumpling makers in Ireland. They have two foreign competitors, a British and Dutch company but Oliver questions their authenticity, “they are probably not that fresh after a shipment. We only use local and fresh produce, Irish ingredients are full of nourishment.” Full disclosure, this writer has tried Oliver’s dumplings. They are juicy, succulent, the flavours are vibrant… you feel like you’ve been hugged after you eat one.
Bringing A Nostalgia To Everyone
Their dream would be for a major supermarket chain to stock their dumplings but a shorter term goal is setting up a takeaway dumpling and bao spot. “Dumplings are a fast but healthy food. They are very easy to cook but healthy. I’ve always wanted to bring real Chinese food to Ireland and dumplings are the top level of Chinese food.
Dumplings are just part of the Oliver’s story, sure it’s a business but it’s something bigger for him. It’s part of his essence, “when you make nice food you feel excited because it’s perfect.” For Oliver dumplings are his childhood, his memories of home and now he wants to share that nostalgia with his adopted country, “you’ll find that dumplings have a very special taste you just won’t forget the taste… you can taste the experience.”
You can find out more about Oliver & Vincent’s business here…