The Sweet Story Behind Dumpling Drop, a Chinese-Style Dumpling Company in Victoria, B.C.

After her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Tarn Tayanunth wanted a therapeutic activity she and her mom could do together. Making dumplings was a natural choice, and it soon became a booming business.

This story is part of Best Health’s Preservation series, which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history.

Tarn Tayanunth can remember sitting around her grandmother’s table as a child in Bangkok, listening to her mom, aunts and neighbours share news and gossip while they made dumplings together. It was exactly that warm memory Tayanunth wanted to conjure when she learned her mom, Toom, had early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 53. The family doctor advised Tayanunth and her stepdad to keep Toom busy but stick to familiar routines that might stave off depression, which could exacerbate her symptoms. Tayanunth and her mom already had a standing Friday lunch date (they live near each other in Victoria, B.C.) meant for checking in and catching up—now, they’d make dumplings as well. All that folding and pinching is dexterous work, a redress to a disease that cuts away at fine-motor skills. Making dumplings was also muscle memory for Toom: “It was something she was really good at, which was important,” Tayanunth says. “I wanted her to feel capable, to know there’s something that she could do without making a misstep or mistake.”

B0041313 CopyImage: Taylor Roades

At first, Tayanunth would freeze the dumplings made during those afternoon sessions, and give most of them away. But the stockpile kept growing, and friends encouraged her to sell packs on Instagram. She was busy managing a restaurant, but she soon started a little delivery service, and it provided enough income that she could leave her regular gig and spend more time taking care of her mom. Then COVID hit and demand for the dumplings surged; she went from 25 deliveries per week to more than 250. Victoria residents couldn’t get enough of her thin-skinned, Chinese-style dumplings filled with pork belly, lemongrass chicken or shrimp and chive. “My dumpling business became a bit of a restaurant-community effort. One friend made my logo, one took photos, someone built me a website, a few more helped us make dumplings.” By November 2020, she’d opened a small downtown storefront for takeout orders.

B0041284 CopyImage: Taylor Roades

Today, Dumpling Drop has 20 employees between two locations. Toom is less involved in the dumpling making (the production needs are far beyond what the duo can get done in an afternoon), but she still contributes by stamping and stickering the packages. “My main thing right now is to give her purpose,” Tayanunth says. “I’ll bring her into the shop to say hi to everyone, and of course she wants to get in there and help.” It’s second nature. Mom and daughter moved to Canada 30 years ago, when Tayanunth was 14, after Toom married a man from Victoria. Toom’s first job in the city was at a Thai restaurant, the same one where Tayanunth worked alongside her for 16 years. “Mom was so good at her job. When she had to quit—she was missing orders and getting confused—it was a real blow.”

B0041291 CopyImage: Taylor Roades

Even if Toom can no longer follow the thread of how the business came together, she is continually delighted by her daughter’s success. Tayanunth is involved in fundraising activities for the Alzheimer’s Society, keen to raise awareness of all the resources and supports for both people who live with the disease and those who care for them. “Caregiving is hard; it’s isolating. I want people to know that connecting with a community can really help,” she says. “I’m so proud that I’m now able to take care of my mom financially because of Dumpling Drop. I’m proud of what we made together.”

This story is part of Best Health’s Preservation series, which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history. Read more from this series here: 

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada