MOFU Shoppe serves approachable and authentic fare on Blount Street
by Catherine Currin | photography by Gus Samarco
Sophia Woo can fold a dumpling behind her back.
She learned from watching her mother and grandmother fold the bite-sized delight like an art form as a child. “I loved cooking when I was younger and I loved seeing people eat the food I was cooking,” says Woo.
In 2013, Woo and longtime friend Sunny Lin—“Lin was fearless and optimistic and always said yes to a good idea when she heard one!” says Woo—started dreaming up a food truck concept. “The dream wasn’t always owning a food truck, per se,” says Woo. “The dream was always creating something, building something from scratch, and the food truck was a vehicle—pun intended—for that dream of ours.” They opened Dump Pho King Truck in the spring of 2014. The two spent nights and weeknights outside of their full-time jobs to fix up the truck. Woo says family tradition, coupled with an affinity for community around the table, propelled her to quit her corporate accounting job once the truck was up and running.
The pho was a hit, and so were the dumplings. But so were less-traditional dishes, like a bahn mi corndog. Woo calls that the “perfect fusion of what we do.”
After about a year of circling the food truck around the Triangle, the duo was tapped by the Food Network to join The Great Food Truck Race. They changed the truck’s name to Pho Nomenal Dumplings—and won Season 6. Woo and Lin knew that they wanted to use their $50,000 winnings and recognition from the show to open a brick-and-mortar shop. While the two hunted for the perfect space, the truck continued to operate for a couple of years. “Raleigh ended up being our homebase because we both lived here and most of our truck stops ended up being in Raleigh— plus, when we ran our kickstarter campaign, Raleigh was home to most of our contributors. So in a lot of ways, Raleigh chose us!”
In 2017, MOFU Shoppe landed in a former car dealership on the edge of City Market. The name translates to ‘more fortune’ in Mandarin Chinese, and Woo says it works with their concept: more food, more fun. The space has an urban warehouse vibe, with high ceilings, a garage door that opens up on sunny days and a balcony section for additional seating. The focal point is the long, modern wood-topped bar, with a cocktail program headed up by Matthew Fenner of Anchor Bar and Milk Bar. It offers a twist on classic drinks, like a Thai Basil Ricky or a Toyko Mule with plum wine, lime and ginger beer.
The menu highlights hits from the food truck—like flounder tacos and Woo’s traditional ground pork and chive dumpling—but the MOFU team flexes their creativity to explore new dishes that still allow for approachable dining. “The whole point from the beginning was to get people to try something new in a non-intimidating way,” says Woo. “A food truck was a great way to do that, and we still try to achieve that goal in the restaurant.”
Since MOFU Shoppe opened over two years ago, Woo says she and the team have been constantly learning as they go. She admits that the transition from food truck to full-service restaurant brought
a steep learning curve. “We had never run a restaurant before,” says Woo, “so thank goodness for our staff to help us get through that.” Woo credits much success to her experienced staff—both
in the kitchen and front-of-house—and to Raleigh foodies for rallying around the Shoppe. “The community here in Raleigh was so welcoming. They were so forgiving when we got things wrong, and cheered for us when we got things right.”
These days, Woo is heavily involved with day-to-day operations, while Lin remains a part-owner but has taken a step back from day-to-day operations. “On any given day, you can find me in the restaurant helping prep, making dumplings, testing recipes, on the line, behind the bar or saying hello to tables,” says Woo.
Woo and Lin sold the food truck in 2019 to focus more on the restaurant. Woo says the duo felt a huge part of a food truck experience is meeting the chef or owner, and they didn’t have the band- width any more. “When we couldn’t do that while operating MOFU Shoppe, we decided to sell it,” she says. But the food truck origins still inspire the folks at MOFU to experiment with ways to make food approachable, fun and delicious. One recent example: the Boodle Fight. It’s a Philipino military tradition where a long table is covered in banana leaves, then topped with everything from whole fish to spicy wings to spring rolls (the banana leaves are both the tablecloth and the plate). Guests stand side by side and ‘fight’ over the fare in front of them. “The Boodle Fight is all about having a huge table and plenty of food, and eating with everyone until you’re friends,” says Woo. “You grab what you want, what makes you happy—and there’s always enough to share with your neighbor.” They tried it out a few years back as a way to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and since then it’s become a staple and a popular catering option.
It comes back to Woo’s founding principal: showcasing food in a simple, approachable form, where everyone’s equal at the table. “I love the joy of eating together—and that’s what we see ourselves as, a place to build community and relationships with great food,” Woo says. “Food doesn’t have to be fancy to be awesome.”
Chicken and Ginger Wonton Recipe
1 lb ground chicken
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced scallion (green and white parts separated)
1 Tbsp freshly minced ginger 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp mirin
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1⁄2 tsp white pepper
36 square wonton wrappers
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the wonton wrappers. Stir vigorously with a spoon or several chopsticks in the same direction until all ingredients are well combined.
To assemble, spoon 1 Tbsp of the chicken mixture into the center of the wrapper. Moisten the edge of the wrapper with a little water and fold corner to corner to form a triangle. Pinch the wonton wrapper to seal tight. Using the thumb and index finger of both hands, pinch and fold both corners of the wonton downwards. Then, lift one corner over the other and join the two ends with a little water. Transfer folded wontons to a plate lined with parchment paper or a floured surface.
Wontons can be frozen at this point! Just stick them on a baking tray with some parchment paper in the freezer until they become firm, then store them in a freezer-proof ziplock bag until you need them.
To cook: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Slowly drop in the dumplings while constantly stirring.
Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the wontons start to float. Optional: Once cooked, fry lightly in a neutral oil.
Serve immediately with soup or with your favorite dipping sauce.