- Located in the former Giga's Pizza, Mei Mei will provide lunch to late night eats for the BU-student rich Audubon Circle neighborhood
- Front counter under construction. The kitchen will be visible to guests. A chalkboard menu will remind guests of the truck and will change daily.
- A worker begins to install some of 200 square feet of subway tile in the kitchen. (photo courtesy Mei Mei)
- Soon, a Double Awesome will be consumed by someone sitting here. Including counter seating, Mei Mei will have room for approximately 25-30 diners.
- In the process of being cleared from the prior tenant, this basement area will be a prep kitchen and provide Mei Mei a location for holding classes and other events.
- The future evening resting space for the Mei Mei truck. While there's room for more than one, the Mei Mei team will "think about that much later on."
Popular food truck Mei Mei Street Kitchen is opening their brick and mortar restaurant Mei Mei this summer in the Audubon Circle neighborhood of Fenway. Be sure to click through the gallery above to see pictures of the construction site and descriptions of the future restaurant. Then continue to the interview below with Mei and Irene Li, two of the three siblings behind the Chinese-American street food inspired operation. They discussed with Eater their plans for all the new space they're about to have, why so many trucks are going brick and mortar, and what they'll be able to do if their Kickstarter is fully funded.
You guys have started a Kickstarter to fund your efforts to become certified sustainable. What will you be doing with the money if it succeeds? Will your menu be any different?
Primarily, we'll upgrade the electrical supply and add insulation. It's a big investment now that will be good for the environment and save a lot of money on energy bills. We'll be able to use reclaimed lumber instead of building countertops out of new materials. We can put in solar shades for the windows. We don't own a smoker, for example, so we'd be able to make our own bacon. We'd love a combi-oven [a convection oven that can double as a steamer]. We could steam in bamboo stacks in a convection oven, but we could do more cool stuff with a combi-oven.
(At this point in the interview, the plumbers discover the remains of a toilet so old that the contractor points out it was the first style invented after the end of outhouses. It is hauled away.)
Building a restaurant is fun!
One of your Kickstarter rewards includes a choice of classes. Is this something you'll continue to use all this space for in the future?
People have asked about classes, but we've never had a space to do anything, so we thought we'd include them as part of our Kickstarter and see how it goes. This space allows us to be flexible and evolve. We can show people how to butcher or how to make dumplings. If response is good, we'll probably do them in the future. We also want to use this space for events like popups or partnerships with local brewers, farmers, or cheese makers with special menus. We want this to be a hub for local food.
How will having the restaurant alter the truck?
We will have some overlap with the truck menus. We should be able to have dumplings on the truck every day, which we can't do right now. The woman who assembles our dumplings will be joining us and hopefully bringing friends. We still have to determine if we'll have any temporary schedule adjustments with the truck during the restaurant opening.
How will eating here be different than eating from the truck?
We're planning to do lunch like on the truck. We'll also have the street food menu available during both dinner and late night. But we're hoping to afford more and different proteins and start working with seafood, which we can't do on the truck for various reasons. We'll be focusing even more on the whole pigs. We'll be selling dinner entrees - we haven't attempted to sell an $18 pork chop off the truck or a braised pig's foot. Those are things that we could try to push off the truck but fit in more with the concept here. We've been inspired by large format dishes we had in New York. It was fun doing a pork bun platter at the The Gallows popup we did, as well as that humungous pork chop we did at Washington Square Tavern. Doing share plates is exciting. There's a different vibe and atmosphere when you're sharing food. Connections are made around the table. You don't have to get a Double Awesome [Mei Mei's signature - and messy - sandwich] on your shoes.
You guys must eat a lot of spare pig parts at home.
We've been eating a lot of the pig as family meal, and a lot of it gets mixed in. It's really sad to turn a porkchop into a dumpling. It means we have more dumplings, but it's certainly a sacrifice. Trotters go into stock. With headcheese, we try to do waffles or spring rolls but that's hard to do this time of year.
Today, Boston Super Dog and The Chicken & Rice Guys also announced brick and mortar plans. It seems every successful food truck has headed that route. Do you think this is happening because owners want to, or do they have to?
A bit of both. Doing a food truck is amazing but you realize how helpful it is to have your own space. There are so many constraints otherwise: on your time, storage, and parking. If you have more access to kitchen space and storage, it's better for you. A lot of trucks made it through winter and realized it was tough. We were off the road four times in a month because there was too much snow in our parking spots. It's a wake-up call. It would be hard to keep growing with a food truck without a space of our own. We always planned to grow in roughly this way. To be more creative and ambitious with our food requires a different setting.
You mentioned working with brewers. Do you have a liquor license in the works?
We're beginning the process of looking into beer and wine, but it's not something we have a lot of control over. It's been a thought in our minds while designing the place. We've had such a good time meeting brewers around the city. They all came out to our dinner at Washington Square Tavern. The brewer community around here is amazing - great people making great product - and that's something we very much want to be a part of.
Most restaurant openings in Boston recently have been in partnership with large restaurant groups. You're doing this by yourselves. Where are you getting your advice?
There are amazing people in our community. There are a lot of other food trucks in this process right now. We're talking to James DiSabatino from Roxy's Grilled Cheese a lot. Our builders are Other City; they did Bronwyn and Journeyman and own Sherman Market. The owners of Journeyman have been happy to chat with us. [Mei Mei brother and co-owner] Andy worked in the industry for so long, and we've had help from Mary Dumont at Harvest, the owners of the Gallows, and the people at Washington Square Tavern. It's such a helpful and generous community. People hear we're opening a restaurant and the first thing they do is offer advice or say "hey, I have a guy!" Everyone has a guy. We have guys. Most of our guys are farmers.