An employee gets a chicken for a customer at the Mint Leaf restaurant on Dec. 9. In addition to dim sum, the Westminster restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese dishes such as fire-roasted duck and crispy roasted pork belly.(Scott Smeltzer / Weekend)
Dim sum is among the traditional dishes at The Mint Leaf restaurant in Westminster.(Scott Smeltzer / Weekend)
Lyone Kwok and Steve Trinh often longed for the dumplings, breads, sweets and other small-portion food offered at dim sum restaurants, but long waits would often dim their gastronomic desires.
“We got really frustrated when we went to [Chinese] dim sum restaurants and we had to wait like an hour and a half to get a table,” said Trinh, 34.
Then Kwok, 33, who had business experience as the owner of a dessert shop in Los Angeles, saw opportunity in the form of a vacant fast-food space within the My Thuan Supermarket in Westminster.
In July 2015, Kwok purchased the space, which formerly served Vietnamese to-go-style dishes, and turned it into Mint Leaf.
Trinh, who had a finance background, joined his college friend earlier this year to assist with marketing.
Mint Leaf is perhaps Orange County’s only fast-casual dim sum restaurant.
The fast-casual concept is somewhere in between to-go and sit-down establishments, with counter service and ample seating, for those who don’t want to order and run, but no drive-through. Trinh said it is a popular concept among millennials.
The Mint Leaf space, in the corner of the grocery store, offers several tables for customers as they eat an array of dim sum choices ranging in price from $1.95 to $3.75, the latter applying to shareable orders of two to four pieces of an item.
Selections include shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings, barbecue pork buns, egg tarts and pork spare ribs.
Like traditional dim sum restaurants, the food is served in circular aluminum containers. But unlike the standard process, the food at Mint Leaf is not pushed around on carts by servers.
The importance to customers of being able to see the food isn’t lost on Trinh, though. At Mint Leaf, the offerings are visible behind the counter, where diners select what they want and proceed to pay for it.
“I think what people enjoy about dim sum is the experience of seeing the food on display and being able to pick and choose,” Trinh said. “You don’t have to overcommit. They’re served in small, shareable portions, so if you don’t like it there’s not a whole bunch of it.”
The restaurant also offers traditional Vietnamese rice dishes, drinks, desserts and Cantonese barbecue, like roasted duck and pork.
“Primarily, we’re dim sum, but because of the demographics in this area, and with the skills of our chefs, we decided we could try to do more to try to cater to the local community,” Trinh said, adding their customers mainly consist of younger people.
But despite the other dishes, the dim sum is what Mint Leaf has become known for on websites like Yelp and Instagram. Earlier this year, Trinh and Kwok, who both live in Los Angeles County, teamed up with a graphic designer friend to create cartoon-like pictures of dim sum with cute faces.
The owners also aim for adorable with some of their actual food too. Steamed sweet buns filled with egg custard are colored green and have candy “eyeballs,” almost making them look like the little green aliens from Disney Pixar’s “Toy Story” film.
The food is offered until 6:30 p.m. every day, when the grocery store closes. Other sit-down dim sum restaurants tend to serve the dishes only through the early afternoon.
Kwok and Trinh said want to eventually move Mint Leaf to their own independent location, but their biggest goal is getting older Asian people to understand the fast-casual concept.
“The people here know a quick-serve concept and a restaurant concept,” Trinh said. “They don’t know there’s something in-between. If we can kind of get them to understand what we’re doing, that would be ideal.”
IF YOU GO
Mint Leaf is located inside the My Thuan Supermarket, at 8900 Westminster Blvd. in Westminster. Hours are 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. More information: mintleafoc.com