Down a small gravel path in El Monte sits a large white building guarded by a large black gate. Inside is a dim sum factory, churning out 2,000 pieces of shumai and 1,500 pork steamed buns an hour.
This is the home of CB Foods Inc., an Asian food manufacturing plant that specializes in dim sum and dumplings.
The company started in 1995 as an airline catering business for dim sum, says chief operation officer Bingham Lee. In a matter of decades, Lee and his brother Chui have built CB Foods into a large-scale manufacturing company. And it's not just dumplings they produce; they do a variety of pan-Asian foods ranging from skewers to falafel to whole roast duck.
For the Lee brothers, Asian food runs in their blood. Their parents were involved in the Chinese restaurant industry in Los Angeles, starting with a popular bakery in Chinatown in the 1960s. From there, they opened Ocean Seafood in Chinatown, then in Alhambra, before selling it all to start working in the catering business.
Today the family is at the forefront of the rising Asian-food craze, packaging steamed buns in all sizes and shapes for hotels, grocery stores, airlines and restaurants.
“The Chinese tourism in Southern California has tripled from two years ago,” Bingham Lee says. “We have Hyatt Hotels, Starwood Resorts and independent hotel chains constantly requesting Asian breakfast items like congee, dumplings, noodles, steam bread and soy milk.”
The Lees also are behind Yum Cha Cafe — a modest restaurant chain with five locations in the Greater Los Angeles area, specializing in fast-casual dim sum.
Walk onto the factory floor and you'll see dumplings being squeezed out and whizzed around like white blurs. The floor has two mixing rooms and a legion of workers inspecting and picking up platters of buns fashioned from meat and flour. The flour is imported from Hong Kong and the recipes come from of a group of dim sum chefs who have written different formulas based on client specifications.
Lee says that gluten-free and vegetarian permutations are among popular requests. More recently, they are being asked for organic and non-GMO products.
“There has been a huge demand in Asian food in the last four years,” Bingham Lee says. He can't seem to put his finger on why — social media, the success of the 626 Night Market — but it doesn't matter. The 16,000 pieces of shumai produced on his factory floor each day are testament enough.