We spoke with Han Chiang of Han Dynasty recently, and it was a really fun interview. Fascinating dude. I’m posting some highlights below. Go here to listen on itunes. Or you can listen to it on our website. And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
GETTING KICKED OUT OF COLLEGE:
I think getting kicked out of school makes me work harder. People work 40 hours a week. I gotta work 80, just to catch up.
Everyone here is afraid of me in my restaurant because people don’t want to screw up. And I’m afraid of my mom when she comes in because like I don’t want to screw up. So she’s like ‘I’m top of the food chain.’”
HOW HE FELL OUT WITH HIS ORIGINAL BUSINESS PARTNERS:
“At the time I didn’t know what I was doing, and they were doing what every Chinese restaurant was doing, which I don’t want to do that. They would always tell me, like, you know, ‘On our menu we don’t have Americanized Chinese food. You must be fucking crazy. You don’t sell General Tso Chicken.’ I’m like, ‘I hate that dish. How can I sell it?” And I’ll be like cursing at customers, like in a humorous way, like joking around, and they’re like, ‘You can’t talk to customers like that. Are you crazy?’ I’m like, ‘They’re loving it. Everyone loves it.’”
WHAT DRIVES HIM
“I’m not in the business to make money. Not really. Growing up, I never had money. But it’s a sense of accomplishment. Of people not looking down on me. That is the goal. Before, I was like the black sheep, I had nowhere to go, nobody would listen to me, and now everybody listens to me, and that is like the greatest feeling in the world.”
WHAT HIS NEXT MOVE IS.
“I’m scouting out DC right now. I think that’s what I want to do. I want to open my first fast casual.”
COMING UP WITH THE NAME HAN DYNASTY.
“When I first thought of the name, it took me a couple of weeks. Like the first names I thought was like China Garden, Great Wall, you know corny shit like that. And then one day I’m taking a shower and I’m like ‘Holy shit! Han Dynasty!’ Because my name is Han, Han Dynasty, I’m big on history, I thought this is the best name I thought of so far. Then I started calling my friends, my family, like ‘I’m gonna name my restaurant Han Dynasty’. And everybody’s like, ‘Eh, I don’t know if you want to do that because you’re like a slacker, you are a black sheep, you’re probably going to fail. Do you really want your name on the business?”
“I was like 90% sure I was going to name it Han Dynasty. But once I realized that it also spelled ‘Handy Nasty’ I was like ‘Shit, that’s 110%.’”
ON HOW HE CAME UP WITH HIS LEGENDARY WU-TANG DINNERS.
For me, every time I do an event it has to be epic. It’s not just one thing, it’s not two things. It’s at least three different things…and me and my friend Dave, he works for Founders. And we were just like super drunk one night, and I had this idea that I just want to do like this crazy dinner. Like 30, 40 courses dinner. And we were thinking about it, like ‘maybe we can spread it out over three restaurants, we do like a breakfast 12 courses, lunch 12 courses, dinner 12 courses.’ 36 chambers. Right, because I’m a big fan of Wu Tang. I still remember, like every day after high school, I would come home after getting bullied, all pissed off, and I would listen to Wu-Tang, and like release all of my stress.” So we decided we’re going to make one dinner, 36 Chambers, 20 dishes, 16 beers, and we work with Dogfish Head and Founders. And we started about 5 years ago. Our first dinner was a big hit. We just did 20 dinners, 16 beers.
JGT: So the first year you were just basically playing Wu-Tang during the dinner?
HAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The second year we did it, before we started, one guy named G walked in the door, and was like let me speak to the owner. So my hostess asked him, ‘What’s this about?” and they’re like “Oh yeah, I’m the manager of the Wu-Tang. I wanna speak with somebody.” So, you know, somebody told me, I went out there and met him. Super cool guy. So he said, ‘You guys were doing this dinner without getting permissions from us.’ And I was thinking at the time, like, ‘What, mother fucker? Did you ask the Chinese people for permission when you used the name Wu-Tang? (riotous laughter) So I think I have more rights to use it than you guys do, right?’ I didn’t say that of course.
REEF: That makes sense though. You do have a point.
HAN: So I was like, ‘Oh shit, I’m sorry. Like I didn’t know I needed to get permission. I did it because I’m a huge fan, you know. Would you mind staying for dinner?’ Kissing up to him, you know. And he’s like, ‘No, no, it’s not a big problem. The only problem we have is that you serve a lot of pork dishes on the menu. And I’m like ‘OK’. And he’s like, “Yeah, most of the Wu-Tang guys are Muslim so they don’t eat pork, so if you don’t pork on the menu they’ll be cool with it.” So I’m like, ‘OK, that’s easy, I just don’t put pork on a menu.’ So we actually became friends, we started hanging out, ya know, and every time a Wu-Tang guy would come out to Philly to perform he’d call me, be like, ‘Do you want to go to the show?’”
A PHILLY RESTAURANT THAT HE HIGHLY RECOMMENDS.
This one that opened not too long ago, it’s called Sophie’s Kitchen. It’s Cambodian. They used to be Khmer Kitchen and they closed for maybe like 6 months and I was very sad they closed. And now it’s like the same people opening a different restaurant, so check them out, they’re very good…super flavorful.
HIS 1-10 SPICE RANKING.
“We have a spice level from 1 to 10. A 3 is like a tabasco. A 6 is like Sriracha. The difference between our cuisine and a lot of different spicy cuisine is that we have so many different spices in the kitchen, and for a level 10 dish, we’re probably going to require like 6 different spices. Each one of those spices has a different flavor, so when you’re cooking 6 different spices in the same dish, you’re not only going to bring up the spice level, you’re going to have a ton of flavor to back it up. You’re not just going to taste the dish as just spicy, it’s super flavorful. So a level 6 might require four different spices, a level 3 might require only one.”