Dora Cheng was fortunate enough to grow up with very important female role models in her life - her mother and her aunt. So, when she decided to take a leap of faith in August 2020 and launch her own wonton shop, it only made sense that she would pay tribute to those special women in the store's name.
"In Cantonese, Yee Ma means 'aunt,' and mama means 'mom,'" she explains. "I grew up calling my aunt Yee Mama because I spent a lot of time with her growing up, and I loved watching her cooking in the kitchen."
Cheng says that Yee Mama felt like the perfect way to capture the spirit of her business and the two important female role models she has in her life. "My aunt and my mom are very different kinds of women – my mom is an independent modern woman and has her own career; my aunt is a nurturing caregiver," she says. "They both have impacted me in significant ways. I am able to pursue my passion of starting a food business because of these two women."
Cheng had been refining the business idea for more than two years, but finally decided to turn her dream into a reality in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her love for wontons comes from her American and Chinese upbringing. She was born and raised in Hong Kong, and moved to America with her family when she was 17. "I have lived in several small to mid-sized cities in America and have always had a hard time finding food that reminds me of the flavors that I grew up eating in Hong Kong," she says.
That's when she turned to making wontons at home. Hong Kong is famous for its wontons, and this type of regional dumplings are packed with lots of fillings and have a silkier and thinner wrapper than other types of dumplings. "I want to bring this type of dumpling to Cincinnati because I think people would love it," she says. "I always have handmade frozen dumplings stocked in my freezer - they're quick and easy meals on days I don't feel like cooking but taste the same as freshly made food."
Not only is Yee Mama a unique offering unlike anything else in Cincinnati, the wonton recipes are also unique. The recipes use traditional cooking techniques and honor the Cantonese culture that Cheng, her mother, and her aunt all represent. Additionally, the ingredients used are common in Asian cooking although they are often unfamiliar in Western plates and include woodear mushroom, shiso, and fensi. “When people enjoy our dumplings, they are learning about a culture and culinary traditions,” she says. “Our recipes pay tribute to the culture and cuisine that inspire us; we don’t water down our flavors.”
Every plate served at Yee Mama also looks like a piece of art. Cheng says that the team is full of talented wonton artists who create beautiful plates. Cheng credits her team for not only their skills in creating beautiful plates but also for helping her get to where she is today. “Cathy, Juana, and Dulce, they are the reason that I can grow Yee Mama into what it is today,” she says. “There are a lot of ups and downs in starting a business, but having a supportive team makes this journey a lot more fun and meaningful.”
Since she opened up her doors in August 2020, Cheng says that her team has grown to four people and has expanded from offering pickup once a week to two days a week. They also deliver to neighborhoods within 15 miles of Findlay Kitchen.
As far as the future, Cheng says that she is working on obtaining a wholesale license and bottling sauces for retail and wholesale. “Our goal this year is to get into local grocers in every neighborhood in Cincinnati,” she adds.
To help them accomplish their growth goals, Yee Mama is the recipient of a grant from Main Street Ventures (MSV), a community-funded initiative that makes entrepreneurship possible for everyone in Greater Cincinnati, by supporting entrepreneurs with what they need, when they need it.
MSV’s primary objective is to support all entrepreneurs that show potential to create jobs and positively impact the community. MSV also supports organizations that strengthen the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. There is a specific focus on empowering female and minority founders.
“The funding will allow us to redesign our packaging and purchase the equipment needed to package our products and bottle our sauces,” says Cheng. “We will also be able to hire additional labor needed to manage the demand of our wholesale accounts.”
You can learn more about Yee Mama by following along on Instagram and signing up for their newsletter at yeemama.com. “We love sharing our day-to-day production in the kitchen on Instagram,” adds Cheng. “We also announce our popups and special events on Instagram and via our email subscription.”
To learn more about Main Street Ventures, visit here.