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‘Still I stand up’: An entrepreneur continues to follow her restaurant dreams

Mini Angus beef pan-fried buns at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
Mini Angus beef pan-fried buns at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
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Business owner Vicky Liu isn’t one to give up easily. When the young entrepreneur was growing up in northern China, she never dreamed about being an employee, she said. She dreamed about being a boss.

“My parents, they were business owners,” Liu said. “So I never thought of being an employee. When I was a kid I thought I would be a business owner too.”

Owner Vicky Liu at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
Owner Vicky Liu stands inside Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana. Liu came to the U.S. as an international student who studied business at UC Irvine. This is her first Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun location.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Last summer Liu opened Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana on Hutton Centre Drive, not far from John Wayne Airport.

“We are a pan-fried style of xiaolongbao,” said Liu. “The flour we use and the way we cook it is different. It makes the texture different.”

Like xiaolongbao, the buns are filled with soup and proteins like pork but are fried rather than steamed, making for a crispy bottom and puffy top.

A plate of 24-karat gold-leaf black truffle buns at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Little Pan isn’t Liu’s first business venture or even her first restaurant. She moved to the United States in high school and was accepted into the business economics program at UC Irvine. After getting her degree in 2015, she set out to start her first business, a food delivery app, in 2016.

“It was called Ban Ban Delivery,” said Liu. “I was running that for four years.”

Ban Ban Delivery did well, Liu said. But as more food delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Door Dash entered the market, it became more difficult for her small business to compete.

“There was just too much competition.” said Liu.

So she began a restaurant business called Little Pan Fried Bun in Santa Ana that specialized in pan-fried soup dumpling. Things were going well, and she looked to expand the concept with a second location. She signed a lease at the Union Market in Tustin, but before she could open, a lawsuit between the subleaser and the property management company forced all the tenants to vacate.

Chefs prepare little pan buns at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun.
Customers can watch through a viewing window as chefs prepare little pan buns at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“It was almost ready to open this month, and then I got this information that we need to close,” Liu told TimesOC back in August 2022.

Liu didn’t give up, however, and she pushed forward on opening a second location in Santa Ana, just a few doors from her original concept.

“The most exciting thing is we have a lot of old customers following us,” said Liu. “That gives me a lot of energy to keep going.”

A chicken in chili sauce dish at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
A chicken in chili sauce dish at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Liu said diners don’t always know what to expect when they learn Little Pan’s Chinese food is from northern China, but she is confident they can find familiar items.

“Dumplings are little easier because people recognize dumplings,” Liu said.

The house special pan-fried pork buns are the most popular, Liu said, along with the black truffle pan-fried buns that are served with edible, 24-karat gold leaf on top.

“Since a lot of people don’t eat meat we developed two other flavors,” said Liu. “One is corn cheese pan-fried bun and the other is purple yam pan-fried bun.”

Since mini dumplings are trending in Asia and on TikTok, the eatery has added them to the menu as well.

“The mini buns are beef,” said Liu. “Right now the mini pan fried bun is very popular in China.”

Besides pan-fried soup buns, the menu features soups and congee, a rice porridge dish, as well as delicacies like seafood pancake made with shrimp, squid and leek or Szechuan-style chicken in chili sauce.

Chinese sauerkraut and lamb soup with vermicelli noodles at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun.
Chinese sauerkraut and lamb soup with vermicelli noodles at Little Pan Gourmet Juicy Pan-Fried Bun in Santa Ana.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Liu said she learned a lot with her previous businesses and hopes to use that experience to make Little Pan a continued success.

“I was facing a lot of problems when I was ending my old business, but still I stand up,” Liu said. “I am growing, and one day I think I will be the person I want to be.”

Most importantly, she will never give up, she said, and she wants to encourage others to follow her example.

“Doing business in America is hard, but it is not that hard,” said Liu. “If you have that dream, just do it. Even if you are from Asia or wherever you are from. Just do it. You will succeed.”

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