Just about every day, customers crossing the bridges to Bellevue ask David Wasielewski when Din Tai Fung will come to Seattle. Now, the store’s managing partner has an answer for them: The wildly popular dumpling house, founded in Taiwan and franchised around Asia, will open a new branch in University Village later this year. The only other U.S. branches are in the Los Angeles area, with one in Arcadia and another slated for Glendale.
The new Din Tai Fung, expected to open around November, will be on the second floor of a new six-story restaurant, retail, and parking complex being developed at the shopping center. It will be slightly larger than the Eastside space — 8,500 to 9,000 square feet, compared with 7,000 in Bellevue — but will have a similar sleek decor, menu and signature “dumpling showroom” outside the front entrance. That’s where diners can watch dumplings being expertly folded while they wait — and, sometimes, while they wait and wait. Din Tai Fung drew lines as long as three hours long when it first opened in Lincoln Square in 2010. The initial crowds have calmed, but the place is still reliably packed with regulars and pilgrims seeking juicy “xiao long bao” soup dumplings, spicy wontons, shu mai, and noodles.
Wasielewski said he had hoped from the start to open more than one Din Tai Fung, but wanted to wait until the Bellevue branch was firmly established and there was no risk of over-stretching his team. Why choose University Village? Pairing up with a high-end shopping complex worked well in Bellevue, and he’s been impressed by U Village’s improvements and plans in progress. He and general manager Susie Plummer “share a lot of the same visions,” he said. And then, as a Taiwanese-born graduate of UW (with an MBA from Seattle University), it had hometown appeal.
“People ask me, do I think this is going to cannibalize my Bellevue store. Maybe, maybe not,” he said. “I look at Seattle as a new market, because I understand there are a lot of people who don’t get out to Bellevue very much. We feel there are a lot of new customers that still don’t know who we are.”
Did he expect the jubilation that accompanied the Bellevue opening, and the intense interest in rumors of a Seattle sister? “No, no, no,” he said. “I was very pleasantly surprised how much excitement we got and the support we had from the community. It was incredible. We’re very thankful, and we’ve very humble, and we understand the importance of continuing to work hard and make sure we don’t let those people down.”