Former pop-up Sum Bar opens doors in its new brick-and-mortar space
Khailing Neoh’s much-loved dim sum pop-up, Sum Bar, enters its next chapter on January 21, 2023, in its own brick-and-mortar space on Washington Street in Greenville, South Carolina. As a full-service dim sum restaurant, Sum Bar pairs the small Chinese dumplings traditionally reserved for brunch with signature craft cocktails and a sophisticated evening setting.
Neoh launched her pop-ups in 2021, sharing siu mai, rangoons, and sesame balls at various locations around Greenville. She grew up in a family of restaurateurs; her parents and grandparents owned restaurants. But as an adult, she pursued a career in sales and product management for an industrial engineering firm. The Covid-19 pandemic brought about a period of introspection for Neoh in 2020. “All the values in my life pointed to food and community,” she says. She saw an opportunity to contribute to Greenville the way that her family members had in their Ohio hometown.
Neoh started recipe testing in her home kitchen, mastering the time-intensive art of crafting delicate dim sum—not unlike the art of homemade croissants. She challenged herself to see how closely she could make her creations resemble the dim sum she loved from China and Malaysia. When she was happy with her recipes, she began sharing her product with Greenville’s hungry residents. The outpouring of support Neoh found at the initial pop-ups grew her confidence.
She continued her day job but did evening events where she could connect with other members of Greenville’s food and beverage community. “I started learning that it’s not what you know but who you know,” she says. Every event led to a new friend, a new invitation to cook, a new pop-up, and eventually, a new restaurant. The success of her pop-ups and community support was the encouragement she needed to turn her night project into a full-time career.
Despite her successful pop-ups, Neoh knew she needed an additional angle to introduce a “non-Americanized Chinese restaurant” in Greenville. She chose to leverage her dim sum restaurant with drinks, specifically, cocktails prepared with complementing ingredients that reflect the flavors on the food menu.
Neoh works with local distributors to access Chinese spirits and liqueurs previously unseen in South Carolina. Her favorite is baijiu, a clear liquor made of fermented sorghum, and it takes center stage on the cocktail menu. For every “classic” drink, there’s also a baijiu counterpart. Think a Strong Collins, made with Wuliangye strong baijiu, lemon juice, simple syrup, and club soda, alongside a tom collins. There’s also the chrysanthe-rum old fashioned made with chrysanthemum tea, Plantation Three Stars white run, orange bitters, cherry bitters, and bubbles. She also plays with Chinese teas, using the leaves to infuse vodka and gin and making simple syrups from the flavors.
The menu itself features four types of rotating dumplings. Sui mai (shrimp and pork wrapped in wontons and steamed) will be a mainstay, served with a sweet and salty sauce made of soy, rice wine vinegar, house chili oil, and toasted sesame seeds. Another mainstay is the sesame ball. The naturally vegan and gluten-free dessert is both sweet and savory, with a bouncy texture. With focused cocktails launching the dim sum restaurant into night-out territory, Neoh hopes the concept will attract people previously unfamiliar with the dumplings. “The cocktail piece keeps Sum Bar fun and relevant. “It’s getting us to an energetic, modern world,” Neoh says.
Opening night coincides with the Lunar New Year. All are welcome and no tickets or reservations are needed.
Sum Bar Cocktail Menu
- by Trisha Boyer