After Luscious Dumplings opened in 2001 in Monrovia, California, it quickly earned praise from the likes of restaurant critic Jonathan Gold for a traditional range of steamed, boiled and pan-fried Chinese dumplings. When the original owners, Alan Lam and Grace Li, decided to retire, explains son-in-law Ker Zhu, "Me and my wife got into the family business seven years ago."
At the beginning of 2018, the couple expanded into nearby Highland Park, naming their new eatery Mason's Dumpling Shop after their son. But even before Mason's opened just a dozen or so miles from its older sibling, Zhu was planning a bigger leap; he was already in talks with the City of Aurora to open a restaurant in Colorado.
With help from Aurora's Economic & Business Development unit, Zhu found a property at 9655 East Montview Boulevard that previously held a string of dive bars, most recently Del Norte. The building was in bad shape, but Aurora had high hopes for it, as well as for the surrounding retail spaces just a couple of blocks from Stanley Marketplace. "We wanted to be in Denver," Zhu notes, "and Aurora looked very promising; we're bringing something people have never tried before."
And so the dumpling company was ready to build its first restaurant (originally dubbed Zhu Dumplings) outside of California, but planning, permitting, negotiating and hiring contractors took much longer than planned, and Zhu nearly gave up. But demolition of the old dive bar finally began this January.
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And now that progress is actually being made, Zhu says the eatery will also be called Mason's Dumpling Shop, and will offer a similar lineup of pan-fried pork dumplings, steamed soup dumplings and boiled dumplings filled with pork, shrimp and vegetables, among the many offerings. There will also be steamed buns, rice bowls and sides, but the menu is short and to the point (differing only slightly from Luscious, which also serves soup noodle bowls).
"Everything is made from scratch," the owner notes. "We make the dough, make the fillings from fresh meat — it's very labor-intensive. We're in at 6 or 6:30 a.m. making dumplings." Because of the time-consuming method, dumplings are only made once a day in batches and often sell out before the end of the day.
"Dumplings are a food you can eat daily, something Chinese people eat regularly," Zhu continues. For this reason, he expects to gain a loyal following in Aurora, noting a young demographic in the city that's interested in trying new things or finding food similar to that in places they've lived before moving to Colorado. He's explored some of Denver's Chinese restaurants and notes that there are very few places making the style of food his restaurants serve, and even fewer where all of the dumpling styles can be found on one menu.
While the original plan called for Mason's Dumpling Shop to be open by now, Zhu's new target is for the last quarter of this year.