In 2017, Wu opened his first store in East Austin, and last fall he expanded into Sunset Valley with his third spot. After almost four years in operation, he said he has introduced the soft, handheld and mess-free bun to the Austin community.
While bao is not a food often seen in the United States, Wu said it is something he has known and depended on his whole life.
“It’s kind of part of our life. We grew up eating it, and now our kids love eating it,” Wu said.To make bao feel more familiar, Wu has been innovative with his menu. While the steamed bun itself is authentic and the store offers traditional Asian seasonings and fillings, he said he added brisket, barbecue and buffalo chicken bao varieties. Also, Bao’d Up introduced a pan-fried bao, which gives the fluffy steamed bun a slightly crisp outside.
“You can put a lot of different flavors in it to try to attract customers and make it more accessible, convenient and still delicious,” he said. “I guess our goal is so that in the future, we don’t have to explain what bao is. It just becomes its own food category as we’re opening more locations in Austin.”
Bao’d Up Director of Operations Kevin Tran said COVID-19 has impacted business at locations closer to downtown, as students stayed off campus and offices have closed. The restaurants have continued to serve food for pickup and to go, but dining rooms have not yet reopened due to safety concerns.However, Tran said the Sunset Valley Homestead location has continued to grow through its first year.
“It’s really special here because South Austin is pretty diverse,” said Tran, who grew up in the neighborhood. “There’s a lot of families, young and old couples, and cultures, and the community is very supportive.”