The story of MOFU Shoppe – the long-awaited restaurant from the owners of Pho Nomenal Dumpling food truck – can be traced to a 2013 Kickstarter video that spans just over 2 minutes and cost $400 to produce.
It’s hard for owners Sophia Woo and Sunny Lin to think that was just the beginning. Woo uses “surreal” several times to describe the experiences leading up to this moment: MOFU Shoppe opens July 6 at 5 p.m.
What followed was a journey that includes raising more than $17,000 to fix up a 1991 former FedEx truck, getting cast on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” about a year later – and winning the grand prize of $50,000 – and ultimately finding a spot in their beloved Raleigh to open their first brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“I can’t believe it’s here,” Woo said Wednesday. “We’re just really grateful that everyone has been so wonderful and supportive as the journey has continued and transformed. I never thought reality TV would have happened. I never thought we would win, either.”
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She showed off the airy space on South Blount Street the day before the City Market restaurant launches a soft opening. They will start serving dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday with a grand opening planned in the future. Wednesday, they were still waiting on ABC permits to be approved.
“We’ll quietly open the door and see who comes,” Woo said, sitting at one of the custom-made wood community tables.
If the restaurant’s sneak peek from May is any indication, which was packed with curious diners checking out the unfinished restaurant and waiting in a long line for food from the truck, it could be another surreal night.
Eventually, they will expand to a late-night menu (drinks and an abbreviated menu), brunch, lunch, then takeout.
Woo and Lin, both 29, own the restaurant with Matt Kenner, owner of Milk Bar, Anchor Bar and a future barbecue restaurant in Raleigh, and executive chef Andrew Schaumann, who owned the Sol Tacos food truck.
The menu features a few favorites from the truck, which hit the road in the spring of 2014 and was then known as Dump Pho King Truck.
Two kinds of dumplings, of course. The MOFU Wings with pickled cucumbers and the Sticky Orange Cauliflower also have passed through the truck’s window.
From Schaumann’s former truck comes the Sol Taco – buttermilk fried flounder with a citrus radish salad and cilantro sour cream. He met Woo and Lin on the food truck circuit and eventually sold his truck. He helped them shape the menu.
Look for Malaysian Roasted Chicken, Miso Pork Chop, 5 Spice Duck and Grilled Chimichurri Steak.
There are other small plates that are new to their menu, including Green Curry Mussels, Crispy Beef Noodles and Crispy Smoked Pork Belly.
The brick-and-mortar location allows them to serve alcoholic beverages. The drink list features an array of wines and house cocktails. Woo especially likes the Tokyo Mule, with plum wine, gin, lime and ginger beer. There also is a short sake menu.
“Some have Asian influences, whether it’s the alcohol itself, or influences in the flavors,” Woo said.
The dessert menu includes a nod to Raleigh. Not Just Icing food truck is supplying the chocolate cake.
That nod to their roots is just one of many found throughout the restaurant.
“Everywhere in here, there’s bits of us and our history and our past,” Woo said. “That was sort of the whole point of this. We always said we wanted it be a place where it felt like a community, where it wouldn’t be intimidating to try different cultures.”
Indeed, the story of MOFU Shoppe is illustrated in a chalk mural from resident artist/bartender Darany Samountry.
But it can be found in subtle symbols, too.
The bar is made by a former high school classmate of Woo and Lin’s. The books lining the shelves are their childhood books, mixed in with Schaumann’s cookbooks. Some of them are written in Chinese; both of Woo and Lin’s parents were born in Taiwan.
There are the garage doors that open up to South Blount Street. The spot once was a car dealership, a nice automobile reference to their culinary start with the food truck.
There’s even the coffee on the menu from Pine State Coffee, a Raleigh roastery. One of its owners co-starred in the cheeky Kickstarter video that started it all.
“There’s just connections all over the place,” Woo said. “I love Raleigh for that reason. It’s such a big little city.”
Woo and Lin will be front and center when the restaurant opens, knowing that people feel connected to them and their story. And it’s quite a story for Lin, a former biomedical engineer, and Woo, a former accountant, who left their jobs and steered their lives in total opposite directions.
Perhaps that’s why “fu” is part of their name. It means fortune in Mandarin Chinese.
“I’ve always jumped at everything that comes at me,” Lin said. “That’s part of the reason why we’re in this situation we are in right now.”
On July 4, Woo said she, Lin and Schaumann had a moment where they acknowledged they were realizing the American dream.
“This is the first year we’ve employed people, we’ve created jobs in Raleigh,” Woo said. “For me, that was my personal celebration for July Fourth. I never would have thought.”
Info: MOFU Shoppe is at 321 S. Blount St., Raleigh. mofushoppe.com or facebook.com/mofushoppe. Pho Nomenal Dumpling can be found at facebook.com/PhoNomenalDumplings.