A spotlight on Mei Mei supplier Urban Farming Institute (UFI) by Jennifer Chen, a Mei Mei intern who has spent time both volunteering at UFI and working at Mei Mei.
From a young age, I loved to garden and connect to the earth through food.
My family had a small vegetable garden next to our house where we grew sunflowers, Chinese spinach, chives, and a bunch of other yummy things that we could easily cut and throw into our cooking pots. There is something special about watching something grow from the start over weeks and months, and there is something magical about harvesting what comes out the other end. That’s why I reached out to Urban Farming Institute (UFI) and Mei Mei to learn more about their businesses. For the past two years, I have volunteered at UFI with Bobby Walker, UFI’s Farm Training Manager, and more recently I interned with Mei Mei.
Mei Mei prioritizes creating dishes with local and yummy ingredients. But that’s not just it - they also make sure they know the people behind the produce, and create close connections with farmers that make the food at Mei Mei even more meaningful. The Urban Farming Institute of Boston, also known as UFI, is one place Mei Mei proudly sources from. The famed ‘Magical Kale Salad’ (gives salads a good rep) is made of kale often sourced and grown right next door in farms in Roxbury by UFI farmers.
"Mei Mei is not a normal restaurant"
In my whopping three weeks interning this past summer at Mei Mei, I got a look at the restaurant industry — where fruits and vegetables go to become delicious dishes. Mei Mei is not a normal restaurant: it’s a family owned, local business that works tooth and nail to be better, to improve the current industry by creating connections between farmer and chefs so that the food that’s served is not only yummy, but ethical — in every sense.
As an outsider who has now seen glimpses from both ends — farm to restaurant table, I see how disconnected we can be to our foods in our day-to-day lives. But after three weeks at Mei Mei, I’ve seen a celebration of the magic of local and organic foods opposed to foods grown through conventional agricultural methods.
UFI was born in 2012 when the interests for a better food system and communal experiences in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan were combined. UFI tackles the biggest problems of social, food, and environmental justice: food availability.
So they did something about it.
In these 6 short years, UFI has brought its global vision of a just food system to reality, creating relationships between residents in Boston neighborhoods and farmers for healthier urban spaces and healthier people.
UFI isn’t just a network of farms. Everything they do is in accordance with what the residents of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan want. At one of my visits to UFI sites, I learned about the history of their headquarters, which sits on the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm circa 1786. The land was originally a farm that spanned many acres. Over the years, when passed from one family to the next, the farmland shrunk. When the farmland passed over into the hands of the city, original plans were to build a few more condos. But the residents surrounding the space protested. Pat Spence, the executive director of UFI, who lives nearby, caught wind.
UFI is made up of real people. More importantly, UFI is made up of the people who will be affected by decisions about land access and food. Because UFI has the residents’ best interests in mind, it is conscious of what problems need to be addressed. Since its start in 2014, UFI has developed the first urban farm under Boston’s new zoning amendment, and founded (and co-sponsored) 3 statewide urban farming conferences that have attracted 400 participants each year from Boston as well as across state lines. UFI has increased access to food and knowledge about food to incredible lengths, and the fruits of their labor are clear and true.
Because UFI is conscious of what is needed in their communities, they have such a large array of opportunities. They provide farmer training to residents who live in Massachusetts urban areas. Bobby Walker, the Farmer Training Manager, works primarily with rookie and upcoming farmers. UFI provides this service to people not only to promote urban farming as a commercial sector that creates green collar jobs, but also to engage communities to work toward healthier and more locally based food systems. UFI provides the real skills needed to become successful small plot urban farmers to the residents of Boston neighborhoods. UFI has so far graduated 5 cohorts of urban farmers and will continue do so in the years to come. Among the graduates of UFI’s training program, 80% work in farm and food related business in the Boston region.
One of the other things UFI does is reclaim land and transform it to land appropriate for growing food. Even as small as ¼ an acre of land can provide a steady stream of produce for residents in the local city. This system helps to reduces Mei Mei’s overall carbon footprint because of how local the food is. Mei Mei is only 15 minutes away from UFI’s headquarters and sprawl of farms. UFI has become a leader of creating a new model for food systems in urban areas, and the team at Mei Mei share this vision of a supporting a better food system. Along with other restaurants like Mei Mei, UFI also sells its produce at farm stands. You can find UFI produce every week on Thursdays from 1-5pm at the Bowdoin Geneva Farm Stand and Fridays from 3-7pm at the Mattapan Farm Stand at UFI Headquarters. You can also learn more about UFI at www.urbanfarminginstitute.org
When I think about the three weeks I spent at Mei Mei and 2 years I’ve known UFI, I first think about the challenges of owning a sustainable and ethical restaurant or a farm in a city. But I’ve also seen that farmers and restaurant owners like UFI and Mei Mei can work hard together to make their common vision, a greener and more responsible food system, become a reality.
About the Author:
is a Mei Mei blog contributor and a 2018 summer intern. She spent her time mostly at Mei Mei contributing to its Open Book Curriculum and writing for its online blog. Jenn is a senior at Milton Academy interested in environmental science and making the Earth more livable, and was super honored to have seen a working, more sustainable business model. If asked, she would say her favorite foods at Mei Mei are the dumplings, especially the vegan-friendly Three Sisters!
Part three of a three-part series by Emma James, a Mei Mei intern who spent a month interviewing our staff, guests and suppliers on our people, food & culture.
What’s a restaurant without food? More specifically, what is Mei Mei without responsibly-sourced, quality ingredients?
From the start, Mei Mei has prided itself on using better ingredients, not just in taste and in quality, but also in terms of food justice. Irene Li, co-founder and littlest mei mei of the restaurant explains that food justice “ties into environmental justice... people need access to fresh and nutritious food, and it has to do with urban planning, distribution, and the industrial food system.”
The restaurant works directly with local family farms and local food aggregators to get ingredients. When Mei Mei business manager Caden Salvata started in July 2012, Mei Mei worked with Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a non-profit “hub for local food.” Caden knew Farm Fresh from his co-op days in Providence - they were established then, and now they’re the biggest player in Boston. Since that food hub boomed, “all the big vendors, more traditional broadline distributors, have come on board and have forayed into the sustainable regional food industry,” some of which Mei Mei also works with, such as woman-owned food distributor Dole & Bailey.
But just because Mei Mei collaborates with food aggregators that promise smoother farm-to-table logistics than farmer’s markets, it’s still not easy. Food and Beverage Director Peter Schantz manages all Mei Mei food ordering for day-to-day restaurant needs as well as in-house and off-site events. Peter explains that “stuff grown in Massachusetts is a lot more expensive than stuff you can get from the broad range purveyors. It’s so much cheaper to grow things in Chile, Mexico and California and ship it wherever than it is to own enough land to produce a reasonable amount of vegetables in Massachusetts.” While other restaurants might pay less than fifty cents per pound of onions, Peter reports that Mei Mei is “paying anywhere from a dollar-forty to two dollars-fifty cents per pound,” a price that ensures reducing food waste is another part of the Mei Mei way: making the most of ingredients by, for example, using kale leaves in salads and saving the stems for pesto that goes on The Double Awesome sandwich.
Caroline Pam, co-owner of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts, a fifty-acre certified-organic vegetable farm she started with her husband in 2006, supplies Mei Mei with vegetables and Kitchen Garden’s famous sriracha through Market Mobile, a distribution system under Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Mei Mei first crossed their path back in 2012, when Irene drove out to pick up Mei Mei’s first order. Caroline has a “love of food and cooking” that led her to start a then-one-acre plot, which high-quality organic growing “evolved to meet growing demand from wholesale buyers”; Kitchen Garden is currently growing kale, head lettuce, radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, scallions, onions, cabbages, broccoli, brussels sprouts, eggplants, summer squash, cucumbers, Asian greens, tomatoes, tomatillos, and “a stupid amount, like 150 varieties, of peppers,” from which they make their famous sriracha that Mei Mei holds so dear, as well as salsas and soon, more food products that people “know that is grown and produced with care.” Caroline describes her and her husband as “passionate cooks [who] love working with people who are really interested in great food and a real diversity of culinary and global inspirations,” because “appreciating food of other cultures is the door to people connecting.” (Caroline had to get off the phone to continue bunching kale.)
"To have fresh and nutritious food to eat is definitely part of environmental justice, it has to do with urban planning, distribution, and the industrial food system." - Irene Li, CO-FOUNDER and OWNER of MEI MEI RESTAURANT
Our policy on meat is that it all must be “pasture-raised and regional,” which Peter explains means Mei Mei pays three to five times more than for conventional or even organic. Peter highlights that “organic” refers to responsible feed and medication for the animals, but does not necessarily mean responsible living conditions.
Heather Standford, owner of The Piggery, a 70-acre pig farm in Trumansburg, New York, supplies Mei Mei with our ham and bacon. Allandale Farm in Jamaica Plain sells Mei Mei vegetables wholesale, including scallions and peppers, and also hosts community dinners that Mei Mei has collaborated on, where Chelsea McNiff, one of Allandale’s two Farmstand Managers and their CSA Coordinator, says “guests get to enjoy some amazing food that Mei Mei uses our produce in.” Chelsea, who comes from a restaurant family, finds it “really impressive and admirable when chefs can create a menu that’s based on what’s available seasonally and when restaurants support local little farms like ours,” and she’s “so glad we can work as a team together.”
“Appreciating food of other cultures is the door to people connecting.” -Caroline Pam, Kitchen Garden Farm
But even though the food truck might be off the road for vending, Mei Mei is still on the move. While in the beginning, using only one aggregator, Mei Mei needed the flexibility of having four different, ever-changing menus, but, to Peter, the central question evolved towards “what choices do we make to be a consistent, growing-quality company that provides for our employees versus sticking to extremely strict moral guidelines of ‘only local, only seasonal?’” Now, as Mei Mei takes action towards making the food industry a better place, they decided to develop one, super awesome menu across all branches of the business. Simplifying allowed Mei Mei to make the best possible tasting dishes they can, and ensure that, with the use of their main aggregators, Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Dole & Bailey, as well as Hudson Valley Harvest and more, chefs never “86” (a restaurant term used for running out of an ingredient).
As we worked to condense our many dishes into one central Mei Mei menu, we had to make the best noms possible. Emily Ko, Mei Mei’s sous-chef for six years, found herself surprised with “how fulfilling it was to make fewer things but make them really carefully,” but knew the food “need[ed] to be very specific from the prep, sourcing, and pricepoint standpoint, and something you can serve at a restaurant that looks good.” Emily says she’s “really interested in the logistical, engineering challenge to figure out all of that,” because she “care[s] more about the quality than the fanciness of it.”
When unveiling the first version of the new menu, it was just that -- a first version. Logen Zimmerman, the operations manager for the School of Visual Arts at Boston University, is among Mei Mei’s most dedicated guests, so we knew he’d have good feedback to offer at a taste-testing session: he shared his love for the Beetnik, the Gabby, both types of fritters, the Javelin Fries, and shares that he “wants to try it all, but [he] wants to balance it and combo things.”
In choosing which beverages to sell, we consider with the same care. Our wines and teas are all local to New England, and we sell Spindrift Seltzer, a really cool brand that’s made in Boston and uses real ingredients, not just sneaky “natural flavors” that most seltzer brands legally don’t have to disclose -- “to that extent,” Irene said, “we identify with that mission a lot, which is, ‘the standards are low, you deserve better, here’s an alternative for you.’”
When your order’s up on the counter, you can get just a little taste of all this work that so many people put so much work into. And of course, when you’re done, what do we do with extra food, drink, or sauce? It’s simple -- we compost! The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the amount of uneaten food from homes and restaurants is valued at $390 per consumer, more than 30 percent of our country’s food supply; because Mei Mei Restaurant is just a stop in our big food system, it’s our duty to ensure the planet will be a growable, breathable, livable space for everyone.
"It's really impressive and admirable when restaurants support local little farms like ours." -Chelsea McNiff, Allandale Farm
If Emily hadn’t been here at the restaurant, she shared, she “would’ve heard someone like Irene’s food mission and been like, ‘that’s very cool, but I don’t know if it’ll work,’” and shared that “it’s heartening to know that [this work] is possible.”
Emma James, a Mei Mei blog contributor and student interested in journalism and environmental law and equity, recently graduated from Milton Academy in nearby Milton, Mass, and soon sets sail for Columbia University in NYC. Her favorite Mei Mei dishes are the Double Awesome (of course), the Beef and Brocc, the Roasted Honey Carrots, and the Black Bean Broccoli!
Part two of a three-part series by Emma James, a Mei Mei intern who spent a month interviewing our staff, guests and suppliers on our people, food & culture.
From the beginning, it’s been about making people happy.
Liza Stone, Mei Mei’s front-of-house manager, describes the common characteristic among staff as “very gracious, generous, warm, casual, sincere,” adding that “we wouldn’t hire someone if we didn’t see it naturally in the interview.” The staff at Mei Mei keeps these happy spirits alive not only through smiles and good vibes, but also through a “Surprise and Delight” budget, which enables staff to send free food and drinks to guests to give them a joyful experience! Mei Mei has a “treat card” that staff members can give to a friend who hasn’t yet visited the restaurant, so when they do stop by, the servers know to send them something on the house. The tradition comes from the siblings’ mom, “one of our biggest advocates,” according to Irene Li, co-founder and owner at the restaurant, who would give her friends a Mei Mei business card, and write “drinks on me,” and sign her name on it. Since “word-of-mouth is the most powerful way for us to get ourselves out there" says Irene, "[the treat card] provides a personal connection between a guest that’s coming in and the restaurant.” It stuck! Even little things, like Mei Mei’s all-gender bathrooms work hard to make any guest feel 100% comfortable and at home.
“When you grow up in a Chinese family, respect for your elders is super important, and I think a lot of that translates to hospitality." -Irene Li, Co-Founder
Irene says hospitality “really has to do with making the guest feel comfortable, and making sure that you are on their side, that you can advocate for them and anticipate their needs so that they can have a worry-free experience because you’re taking care of everything for them.” Some of this understanding she attributed to her family’s heritage, because “when you grow up in a Chinese family, respect for your elders is super important, and I think a lot of that translates.”
Customer needs can range from dietary to emotional, even to things the restaurant doesn’t even have. Irene shared that Mei Mei has plenty of dishes distinctly marked “vegetarian,” “vegan,” “gluten-free,” but “we pretty much always provide any modification to whatever any guest wants, [because] the philosophy is, if we can do it and it is reasonable, then we should do it.” At a recent dumpling class, Irene ran over to the corner store to buy almond milk, even though the restaurant doesn’t keep milk alternatives in stock, because “the idea that you can provide a guest with something they want, even if its not making you money and even if you’re not selling it to them, is really important, the extra mile we want to go for people.” And more than food accessibility, in terms of quality and dietary needs, and a pervasive spirit of belonging, our front-of-house staff members speak a wide variety of languages -- Filipino, French, Creole, Chinese, and Spanish -- which effectively removes nearly any obstacle to good food and good vibes.
"...you don’t even realize you’re eating fancy because it’s at a price point you can afford.” - Emily Ko, FORMER MEI MEI sous-chef
The “Mei Mei customer” is anyone! For Emily Ko, Mei Mei’s sous-chef from April 2012 until the end of May 2018, “the most interesting part is taking this sourcing concept that’s often in the realm of really fancy, expensive restaurants, and making it accessible on a daily basis to all kinds of people.” Although she very recently made a big move to the West Coast with her partner, Emily “really hope[s] to see Mei Mei continue to be a part of the community that is very democratic in its reach and can turn what can be kind of a highbrow principle into an everyday lunch where maybe you don’t even realize you’re eating fancy [because] it’s at a price point you can afford.” Mei Mei’s mission to balance accessibility and quality supports food justice for growers and eaters, and everybody in between!
The restaurant's location in Boston University’s South Campus attracts plenty of students, professors, and scholars. Logen Zimmerman, the Operations Manager for the School of Visual Arts at Boston University, likes “having really high quality food and service in a more casual dining atmosphere,” where “it doesn’t feel pretentious [and] chefs care about what they’re doing, they put a lot of TLC (tender love and care) into it.” From Mei Mei’s Instagram and email newsletters, he follows the “really attractive company policies in terms of transparency and profit-sharing, which seems ethically-responsible,” and Mei Mei's work to “support neighborhood and area farms.” Logen, who lives in nearby Brookline, “see[s] this place as an anchor of the neighborhood, because when Mei Mei moved in, it made South Campus more of a destination for life and vitality.”
When the restaurant opened up, another customer, BU PhD student and MIT Lincoln Lab researcher Brent Parham “started coming for lunch and never stopped.” Over a few months, Brent went through the entire menu and sent pictures of each dish to his now-fiance whenever she couldn’t come, and now Mei Mei’s catering their wedding in the fall! Mei Mei meals “hit [his] taste buds right,” especially because Mei Mei will invite regulars to special menu tasting events to help provide feedback on new menu items.
Of course, some of the most dedicated members of the Mei Mei family have been with us since back at the truck’s humble beginnings. Mikael Bristow, who works as Operations Director for the Junior League of Boston and serves as treasurer for the Fenways Garden Society, first met the Mei Mei food truck back in 2012 when hungry at lunchtime near the Boston Public Library. “It was love at first Double Awesome!” Mikael remembers that “Irene would recognize me and would ring me by name,” and the “friendliness, fantastic service, [and] amazing food was like seeing friends,” a “personal and beloved” culture from the family business she thinks Mei Mei has “brought to the restaurant and comes through.”
And if you can’t make it by the restaurant, Mei Mei also loves bringing cheer to all sorts of fun events, like weddings, business gatherings, parties, even dumpling classes! Catering Manager Olivia Dwan is confident that even outside the brick-and-mortar, Mei Mei “can definitely transfer that culture and what we’re all about in our staff and food to any event, they can really see the Mei Mei vibe.”
is a Mei Mei blog contributor interested in journalism and environmental law and equity. She recently graduated from Milton Academy in nearby Milton, Mass, and soon sets sail for Columbia University in NYC. Her favorite Mei Mei dishes are the Double Awesome, the Beef & Brocc, the Roasted Honey Carrots, and the Black Bean Broccoli!
Part 1 of a three-part series by Emma James, a Mei Mei intern who spent the past month interviewing our staff, guests and suppliers on our people, food & culture.
From the beginning, Mei Mei’s first ambitious goal has been to support sustainable, responsible food-growing practices, but more recently, Mei Mei has been looking at human welfare in the food industry itself.
Emily Ko, Mei Mei’s sous-chef for six years, having just recently departed for California, pointed out that “people will go to a fancy restaurant and ask, ‘how was this cow raised before it became my burger?’ but nobody really asks, ‘how’s the dishwasher treated, what are they being paid, and what kind of crazy hours are they working?’” Business Manager Caden Salvata, who’s been with Mei Mei since July 2012, described a philosophical shift over the past few years, “yes, animal welfare is important, yes, the environment is important, but also, this is an industry that’s notoriously [challenging] for its employees, and human welfare is also something we should be striving towards.”
The living hourly wage for a single adult supporting him or herself in Boston is $14.11 as of today, but minimum wage is $11.00, and for tipped employees, as are common in the restaurant industry, the hourly minimum is $3.75. Restaurants often pay “back of house” positions, such as dishwashers, bussers, and even chefs, minimum wage with long, late hours, and rely on tips to pay “front of house” server positions -- a practice wrought with discrimination, harassment, and worker exploitation. The work, in the front and behind the scenes alike, is physically taxing and stressful, and restaurants often hire workers part-time or temporarily to avoid covering benefits. Furthermore, because the turnover rate in the industry is so high, overworked and underpaid employees usually face the my-way-or-the-highway norm, and in turn, might (and often, deserve to) hold embittered attitudes towards the work.
Mei Mei has approached this immensely-flawed industry with the focal question, “How do we make staff care because we care?” as co-founder and owner Irene Li shared in her keynote speech at an event called “Food For Thought” early in May this year. She described the Open-Book Management system at Mei Mei, introduced April 2017 in collaboration with ReThink Restaurants, in three key steps: educate all staff members in restaurant finance, speak openly about and solicit feedback on Mei Mei’s P&L (“profit and loss” statement), and reward staff with profit sharing and other team-challenge incentives. This progressive strategy helps retain staff, pay them better, and create a “culture to work hard and use our brains and be rewarded for it.” In even more recent, exciting news, Mei Mei will begin offering health insurance to staff who work at least 30 hours per week.
Aidan Dunbar, a full-time front-of-house server, describes himself as a “curious, nerdy dude,” but admits that “finances were never really [his] strong suit,” so he found the curriculum “fascinating,” and “like[s] working at the kind of place that would invest in its employees.” Aidan recalled when he’d just started, nearly a year ago, and was asked for feedback “immediately,” and initially replied, “I don’t know how to improve a business,” but reflected that he now “knows how to make suggestions that aren’t ridiculous,” and is encouraged to. He appreciates that management at Mei Mei is “open and transparent about how things are done, and showing me the whole picture, which makes everything just much clearer.”
Open-Book Management, groundbreaking for the industry, further supports Mei Mei’s culture of openness, honesty, feedback, and teamwork. Caden, a self-declared “champion of self-evaluation and reflection,” led a series of team challenges where staff played a direct role in improving the company. The first was to hit a 2% revenue increase in alcohol sales, the second was to cut down on COGS - “cost of goods sold,” a term that refers to the cost of ingredients as well as disposables needed to serve food - and the third, to get sixteen Yelp reviews above 4.25 stars within a four-week period. Not only did staff members brainstorm and apply strategic and creative ideas, but they were also rewarded with bonuses: for example, during the COGS challenge, all the money that the teams saved for the restaurant in that financial period of four weeks was given back to the staff who participated in the challenge.
Mei Mei’s emphasis on personal responsibility, teamwork, and feedback extends as far as its employee performance review program, which involves a “360-degree review,” a system of anonymous feedback from everyone in the company, supervisor or supervisee.
The Mei Mei profit sharing model divides the profit surpassing a predetermined threshold among staff members according to hours spent working, regardless of position, and “will help to give some extra compensation to our most full-time and dedicated employees, some of whom wouldn’t necessarily see some of those benefits,” Emily shared. In addition, Mei Mei recently transitioned to biweekly tip-pooling the front-of-house tips, in an effort to treat server labor hours more equally, and eventually eliminate the need for tipping altogether.
Moving forward, Irene spoke of her hope that “everyone can do everything” in the restaurant, from working directly with guests to helping with prep to checking the books. Although more employee training costs the restaurant more upfront, Mei Mei hopes this increased flexibility will further solidify mutual appreciation and broader thinking among the staff, as well as keep the job interesting! It’s ambitious, but the Mei Mei sense of teamwork and mutual-respect “originally comes from this being a family business, where we all care about each other and we know each other as people first and coworkers second, and we all want each other to succeed,” Irene shared. “Pretty much anyone in the restaurant will drop what they’re doing if you have something that needs to be finished urgently and you can’t do it.” Furthermore, because Mei Mei is a “really democratic organization where we’re not requiring you to have two years of experience,” Irene said, “ to be a great employee, you need the right tools and resources and training, and if you’re not doing your job, it probably means that we [the managers] are not doing our job.”
Mei Mei’s truly putting their money where their mouth is: “better food, better jobs.”
is a Mei Mei blog contributor interested in journalism and environmental law and equity. She recently graduated from Milton Academy in nearby Milton, Mass, and soon sets sail for Columbia University in NYC. Her favorite Mei Mei dishes are the Double Awesome, the Beef & Brocc, the Roasted Honey Carrots, and the Black Bean Broccoli!
Guys. Get this. Do you want to win FREE DOUBLE AWESOMES FOR A MONTH?!?!?
Our most famous sandwich, the Double Awesome, turns SIX YEARS OLD this month. How crazy is that! So to celebrate, we are choosing one lucky person to win free Double Awesomes for a whole month. Yup, you read that right. Here's the deal: you repost this photo on Instagram this weekend. Sweepstakes close Sunday night at midnight EST, then we'll pick a winner on Monday!
You have to be following us, and you have to mention @meimeiboston and #DoubleAwesomeLove in the post. A few other bits of housekeeping, in case you're curious about the terms of all the delicious eggy cheesy goodness you're going to be eating:
- You get 1 Double Awesome during one visit per day for 30 consecutive days. OMG!
- We're talking one regular Double Awesome, eggs any way you like, but with no meat (you're welcome to add it on for the regular add-on price if you want)
- This reward is non-transferable, meaning you can't send your sister or bestie or friend in to get your Double Awesome. You can consider sharing with them though, if they're being nice :)
- The 30 days starts on Tuesday, April 16th. Remember, we're closed Mondays but the Double Awesome is now available from open to close every other day of the week!
- Lastly, you can only claim if you come in - no delivery via GrubHub or Postmates or anyone. You're welcome to call and put your order in for takeout though, as long as you come in to get it yourself.
- To redeem your Double Awesomes, we'll snap a photo of you with your first sandwich to post on social. Then every time you come in, just pull up that photo, show it to our counter staff, and the Double Awesome is yours!
- P.S. This contest is not affiliated with Instagram.
Ok everyone, good luck... start your regrams NOW!
Hello Mei Mei family! We’ve got some big changes coming up, so here’s the littlest Mei Mei to tell you all about them. Drumroll please…
The last year has been one of huge transitions and growth for Mei Mei, and for our family. We opened our books to our team and launched profit sharing with Rethink Restaurants. Andy opened The Beer Mobile. Mei moved to ATL and just finished writing the Mei Mei cookbook, which will be published by Roost Books in early 2019! I’m taking over operations from the sibling team, and getting married in May. We also renewed our lease on our Park Drive space. As I write this, it’s been almost five years since we first signed on to our cozy spot on BU’s South Campus. Hard to believe. As we look towards the future, towards future expansion and deeper community building work, we’re making some more changes to how things work in our business.
As our guests, you’ll notice two major changes:
1. We’ve created a brand new restaurant menu that will be served counter-service style all day.
Our space will be as bright and cheery as ever, and as always, our ingredients will be among the best and most ethical you can find. We’re sad to say goodbye to dinner service as we’ve known it, but we’re excited to have a consistently casual service that can accommodate more diners with different diets and budgets. We’re also refocusing on vegetables, smaller plates, and scallion pancake sandwiches, and we know you’ll find something you love. We believe that food, done right, can and should nourish, inspire, and connect us, and we know this menu is yet another step in that direction.
Of course, we’ll also have our new menu, which includes several old favorites. Starting Tuesday, March 20, 2018, you’ll be able to enjoy your Double Awesome with a side of Curried Sweet Potatoes or a trio of Bluefish Fritters with smoked paprika aioli. Or, you can try one of our new scallion pancake sandwiches, from the rich and meaty Beef & Brocc to the hearty vegan Gabby. (Come in for dinner to bid adieu to our Kimchi Fried Rice, Cumin Lamb Dumplings, and Handmade Mantou. Who knows, they may pop back up, reincarnated as specials!)
Our catering menu will undergo an equally exciting change. I for one am thrilled at the prospect of being able to get scallion pancake sandwiches straight to your homes and offices (and to offer them as salads too)! Starting Tuesday, March 27, 2018, you’ll be able to get that and much, much more.
2. After six years, our food truck will retire from vending on the streets of Boston to support our growing restaurant and catering business.
Like our colleagues at Clover, a couple years ago, we stopped relying on the food truck vending schedule as a profit engine (PUN!). Instead, we focused on using it for marketing, wedding catering, and training up new staff members. As the winters seem to get worse and the food truck community grows, we’re bowing out of the Boston and Cambridge programs so that we can focus on the restaurant and open up spots for new food truck entrepreneurs. On the bright side, we’ll have more availability to take on private events, so invite us to your workplace party or wedding! We’re excited to grow our food truck catering business and have used open book to engage our whole team around these goals.
We are so grateful to all of you who have supported us through the good and bad times, from our first year on the road to our Kickstarter to the bustling summer lunches at Dewey Square. We’ve got some fun new bits and bobs up our sleeves - a loyalty program, a smidge of restaurant remodeling, new biodynamic wines, and so on.
We'll still cater weddings, throw private events in the restaurant, and teach dumpling classes. We'll still serve pasture-raised meat only. We'll still have bright yellow chairs. And we'll still be working to fill this industry with better ingredients and better jobs.
Feel free to email me irene(at)meimeiboston.com. Thank you all for everything.
Stick with us and stay tuned as we embark on our next five years.
Irene, the littlest mei mei
and the entire Mei Mei Family
We love our friends over at Allandale, the working farm and farmstand located between Boston and our hometown of Brookline. We've been picking out pumpkins and Christmas trees there since we were little kids, so it's been so fun to work with them sourcing produce for the food truck and restaurant. This year, we decided to throw two dinner parties at the farm. Our August dinner was picnic-style, with blankets and chairs for eating all over the main field. Our October dinner last week was held in Greenhouse #3 for a cozy harvest party along with our truck bestie The Beer Mobile!
If you haven't heard about The Beer Mobile yet, it's the truck cousin to our food truck, the brainchild of Mei Mei co-founder and big bro Andy! He and his long-time bartender friend Corey set up The Beer Mobile as an easy option for bar catering and craft beer on draft for parties and weddings. It was the perfect companion to the food truck for our harvest party!
Over in the greenhouse, the wonderful Allandale crew - led by Emily, Chelsea and Jessica - had set up farm tables and benches with burlap tablecloths and farm flowers.
Andy and Corey brought a few varieties of red and white wine along with local craft beer like Cisco Whale's Tale Pale Ale, our favorite Bantam and Downeast Ciders, and Shock Top Belgian White beer. When guests arrived, they immediately lined up for a drink next to the fire pit, cornhole, and pumpkin patch.
Meanwhile, over in the food truck we were busy plating miso soup with local seaweed, organic tofu, and spiralized daikon radish as well as a smoky eggplant dip with Allandale cubanelle and poblano peppers for dipping.
The 80-odd guests (we sold out the event again!) began to join us in the greenhouse for the meal.
How warm and cozy does it look with tables full of people? We're so excited to do more events in here.
And then the food came! Check out the delicious menu featuring all sorts of Allandale produce, straight from the fields.
Once we started serving I forgot to take pictures, but luckily Jessica, our marketing consultant/Mei Mei best all-time partner-in-crime managed to snap a photo of the red-cooked pork shank with multigrain blend and the roasted acorn squash with sweet and sour squash seed glaze.
The meal ended with fudgy blondies made from Allandale baby ginger and a delicious ricotta & tomato parfait. No pictures, sorry - they went too fast!
There's a chill in the air, which means we're nearing the end of wedding season. We're going to miss the parties every weekend - it's been such a blast celebrating with wonderful people all summer! Our amazing couples have been sending us wedding photos, and we wanted to share some of our favorites here. We love being a part of some of the best, most important days in peoples' lives.
Hilary and Greg got married at the historic Loring Greenough House in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. We've done lots of neighborhood events and parties at this location, which is a perfect indoor + outdoor venue for food trucks.
As you can see, Andy, Alyssa and Bibi were pretty excited to say hello to the bride and groom.
We love a good cheese plate for every festive occasion....and we love a tiny bow tie attached to a super cute kid eating a Double Awesome even more.
Guests nibbled on scallion pancake sandwiches, soup shots with local veggies, sweet corn fritters, dumplings and more.
Hilary and Greg said:
It’s hard to remember there was ever a time that we weren’t going to have a Mei Mei wedding. If I could do the whole thing all over again, the very first email I would send is to Irene. (I think sometimes we made up reasons to get in touch with Irene, just to have her calm, caring, organized presence write back.) Again and again, Irene and the crew made us feel like the most special couple on Earth. Choosing a menu when everything they make is so freaking delicious was definitely the hardest part of the entire affair. Our guests just raved and the staff were amazing. I’m delighted that we can keep eating Mei Mei for the rest of our lives, to remember such a very sweet day with a very amazing food truck. Scallion pancakes, people, scallion pancakes.
Thank you both so much for the kind words, and congratulations again! So much fun. Photo credit for all above photos: Emmy Hagen
Another one of our favorite events from the summer was celebrating the wedding of Corey and Zev at the Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. You can tell instantly from this photo that they're a super fun couple (I mean, check out that blue steel supermodel pose!) and we had such a blast hanging with them and their many friends and loved ones.
They served up Double Awesomes at the wedding, along with all sorts of other dishes, from Red Curry to Rib Tips to our Magical Kale Salad. Irene had such a blast with them. Congrats again, Corey and Zev!
Last but certainly not least, we have the beautiful wedding of Eliza and Nick at a private residence in West Barnstable, MA. Don't you love these two already, just from this photo? Perfect bride and groom for a food truck wedding!
The location was gorgeous, the guests were awesome, the night was just lovely. Eliza was kind enough to write us and say:
A month after our wedding, Nick and I are still on cloud nine and are so thankful everything went so smoothly and perfectly. A lot of that was thanks to you and your staff, so I wanted to thank you for being so helpful and giving our guests the best wedding food they've ever had (we really got this feedback from a lot of people!)...The food and service was everything we could have wanted!
Congrats again to Eliza and Nick and we wish you the very best! Photos by Siri Jones.
Thanks again to all our wonderful brides and grooms, their fantastic photographers and lovely guests. We feel lucky to be part of these special days and wish you lots of very happy eating as married couples!
Hi everyone! It's getting to be the time of year that we welcome fall flavors. Whether you want pumpkin spice EVERYTHING or if you prefer your pumpkin spices to stay within the confines of a pie crust, consider another unexpected autumn flavor: Mei Mei sauces! Made with local maple syrup (Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce), cranberries (Cranberry Sweet & Sour Sauce), and apples (Apple Hoisin), these ingredients make us think of brisk weather, falling leaves, Thanksgiving dinners, apple picking, and all the fun stuff that comes with fall in New England.
At home, I've been using our Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce for a lot of Asian-influenced dishes like Stir-Fried Greens or Smoked Maple Ginger Noodles with Tofu. But the flavors are versatile enough, especially when mixed with other ingredients, that they work well with all sorts of meals. Since we started using our sauces as the base for salad dressings in our food truck market bowls, I've been making delicious vinaigrettes in an instant at home. They're good on just about every kind of salad. Above, we've tossed roasted sweet potatoes with pickled cranberries, wheatberries and goat cheese over greens (if you want the recipe, you'll have to wait for our cookbook, coming early 2019!), but feel free to play around with your own combinations.
I make the salad dressing using the following basic formula: 1 part Mei Mei sauce to 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. That's it! Which might looks something like this:
1/4 cup Smoked Maple Ginger sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar, or vinegar of your choice)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or oil of your choice)
Stir or shake, and BOOM. You've got a delicious salad dressing in about 3 minutes. Taste to see if it needs a pinch of salt, or a bit more vinegar, or whatever else you want to add. Toss it over anything you like and enjoy.
Come grab a bottle of Mei Mei sauce at any of our locations, or online here!
We're excited to introduce two exciting promotions: Boozy Brunch Bundles & Fritter Freebie!
BOOZY BRUNCH BUNDLES
Score a FREE order of Sweet Corn Fritters with our house-made sriracha aioli ($5) with purchase of any alcoholic beverage! Click here for our alcohol offerings.
- The Mei Mei team
The sibling owners of Mei Mei will be appearing on Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games, airing Sunday, May 7th at 8PM! We're celebrating with a viewing party at the restaurant, so RSVP below to secure your spot!
Sunday May 7th: 506 Park Drive, Boston MA. Free appetizers will be served with a cash bar for beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks, and of course, Double Awesomes. We'll open the doors at 7pm to hang out until the episode starts at 8pm. To make sure we fit in as many people as possible into our small restaurant, we will start opening up spots on the wait list if you haven't arrived by 7:45pm. Thanks and we look forward to seeing you there!
Last week we hosted a great event at the restaurant - the All Local Dinner! Organized by the Sustainable Business Network, the group that certified us as a sustainable restaurant, these dinners are meant to spark conversations about the local food system over delicious eats. As they say:
The hugely popular ALLocal Dinners bring together local food leaders and eaters for collaborative conversations about our food system over a delicious 3-4 course meal prepared by a locally owned and independent Greater Boston-area restaurant.
At the ALLocal Dinners, 100% of the ingredients served must be locally sourced and produced down to the flour and salt! Each event varies in menu, atmosphere, size and location, but all are great adventures for the restaurant hosts and guests. Restaurant chefs have fun developing creative all local menus, discovering available foods and new suppliers and interacting with enthusiastic eaters. Guests devour delicious local food and drinks, and learn more about their part in strengthening the local food system to expand their connection to new local finds.
Here are just a few of the AllLocal dishes we served...
Spring curry with Heiwa tofu, and potatoes, carrots and daikon from our local farmers...
Chicken wings from our friends at Stillman Quality Meats.....
Whole steamed scup from our friends at Red's Best...
And Cumin Lamb dumplings featuring traditionally raised lamb from our friends at North Star Sheep Farm!
Thanks everyone for coming to the #AllLocalDinner and we can't wait to see you at the next one!
Hi Mei Mei friends!
We're very excited for some big company updates and wanted to share them with you. Here's an open letter we've written to let everyone know about some new programs we are implementing at Mei Mei. Thanks for reading!
We are proud to announce that we are instituting an open book management and profit sharing program at Mei Mei. Led by Rethink Restaurants, we will be opening our financial books to our staff and running classes to educate and empower our team to help make organizational decisions and positively affect our bottom line. We're excited to get everyone, from dishwashers to line cooks to servers and managers, working together to benefit the Mei Mei team as well as you, our supportive guests.
After much consideration, we have decided that the restaurant will now be closed for lunch as well as dinner on Mondays. Effective Marathon Monday, 4/17, this will allow us to focus on the new program and other projects. We will still be available on Mondays for caterings as well as private parties, dumpling classes and other events.
Thank you for your understanding and please come chat with us if you'd like to learn more!
Best, the Mei Mei team
We are absolutely thrilled that Irene, the littlest Mei Mei, has made the James Beard list of semi-finalists for the third year in a row! As one of the Rising Stars on the list, Irene is one of a boatload of other ass-kicking chefs under 30 years old who are predicted to have an impact on the industry. It's exciting to have her up there with another Boston friend (we see you Juan!) and some incredibly talented folks from around the whole country (we see you Maya and Shuai!).
It has actually been only a few weeks since we saw Shuai even though he and his wife Corrie, who run Short Grain food truck together, live in Charleston, South Carolina. We were lucky enough to work with them and some of our other favorite people at, coincidentally, a James Beard Foundation dinner at the Beard House in New York. We wanted to share some of our favorite moments from the night in celebration of today's semi finalist announcement.
The event was called F is for Fusion and I think this instagram post, by Irene, explains it all best.
Took this snapshot of the Beard House program and menu for the today while standing right next to James Beard's kitchen!
One of our favorite bites from one of our favorite chefs - from Seizi of Cafe Sushi in Cambridge MA
The menu, in very dim and intimate lighting...
Seizi's Kobujime Fluke with Red-Shiso Pickled Cranberry, paired with Ran's Coat of Arms with Aperol, Grapefruit, Absinthe and Passionfruit
The above dish, by James Mark of North, might just have been my favorite. He took a classic Chinese dish and both elevated it and changed it up with punchy preserved green strawberries.
I'm kind of obsessed with these chicken wings. This recipe takes my favorite flavors from the Salt & Sichuan Peppercorn Wings that we did at the restaurant, but makes it easy to do at home...cause I don't have a restaurant-level deep fryer at home. Do you? (Please tell me if you do so I can come over and eat all the time, thanks). Instead, you can do a simple and healthier baked version using a wire rack and a sheet pan in the oven. Then you'll just toss away in our Cranberry Sweet & Sour Sauce and chow down. Easy peasy. We use black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns and white pepper here, but you can always substitute additional black pepper here if you don't have one of the other kinds. Try it out and let us know what you think!
Serves 3-4 people, with side dishes.
2 lbs chicken wings
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup Mei Mei Cranberry Sweet & Sour Sauce
Scallions for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix the salt and pepper, using a spice grinder where necessary.
Toss the chicken wings in about 3/4 of the salt & pepper mixture, then lay out on a wire rack on a foil-wrapped sheet pan. Set aside the remainder of the spice mix for additional seasoning later.
Bake the wings for 40-50 minutes or until fully cooked and crispy. Try a chicken wing to see if it needs more salt & pepper.
Once slightly cooled, place in a large bowl and add the Cranberry Sweet & Sour. Mix thoroughly so every wing is coated in the sauce and enjoy immediately!
It always seems so sad when you get a beautiful leafy bunch of beets and their greens, and then a recipe only asks for the beets themselves. Why waste so much delicious vegetable!? This recipe, a riff off the Balsamic Glazed Beets from Genius Recipes by Food52 (we highly recommend) uses the Apple Hoisin instead of balsamic vinegar and herbs to add sweetness and depth. All you need is veggies and a bottle of our sauce...assuming, of course, that you have salt and pepper, butter or oil, and water in your kitchen:) Hope you like it!
1 bunch beets with leaves
6 small carrots, cut in half lengthwise
½ medium onion
¼ cup Mei Mei Apple Hoisin
2 tbsp butter or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Remove beet leaves, chop, and set aside. Cut the roots into 4-6 wedges.
Place the beets, carrots and onion into a wide shallow pot in one layer. Cut carrots to fit if necessary.
Add 2 cups water and add the Apple Hoisin, butter and pinch of salt.
Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Raise heat to high and boil uncovered until sauce is reduced to syrup and the beets and carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add beet leaves back, cover, and simmer on low to steam the leaves for 5 minutes.
Mix thoroughly, add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!
Guys. Don't panic. It may be a frighteningly short time until the holidays if you haven't done your Christmas or Hanukkah shopping yet, but we got you covered. A 3-pack of our sauces are the perfect present for the chef, local food lover, home cook, eco-friendly eater or farm supporter in your life. Or really, anyone who's into food! And hopefully that's everyone you know.
There are lots of ways to get these sauces quickly and easily. For those of you outside of Eastern New England, your best bet is our website - we'll be mailing via USPS Priority Mail and you should be good up until about the 20th of December. But the earlier the better!
For people in New England, you've got a couple of good spots around Boston and Rhode Island to shop. Other than our restaurant, shipping container and food truck, the following stores are carrying sauces and they're all worth a visit for other reasons too!
Stock in Providence, RI has a beautiful collection of useful kitchen tools and beautiful home goods....
Our friends at Allandale Farm hhave tons of local products, plus seasonal items like pumpkins and Christmas trees!
The Cheese Shop of Salem has a fantastic product selection and look at their gorgeous catering platters!
Go forth and get yourself some sauces - as a gift or just for yourself - and we promise you won't regret it. Happy holidays everyone!
Our Stir Fried Greens are one of the most popular snacks at the restaurant - tasty, healthy, local, crunchy, savory - all the good stuff. Lucky for those of you who can't make it into the restaurant, it's also super easy to make at home! Snag a bottle of our sauce at the restaurant, shipping container, or food truck or via AmazonFresh and go for it!
½ Tbsp neutral oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 cups greens (we love kale, collards, mustard greens, etc)
Pinch of salt
2 tsp Mei Mei Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce
2 tsp toasted breadcrumbs
Heat oil in a wok or saute pan until shimmering. Add the garlic clove and stir until fragrant, about one minute.
Add greens and toss or stir with spoon until wilted and lightly charred.
Place on plate and drizzle with Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce
Top with toasted breadcrumbs and enjoy!