This piece is part of our GVLtoday Q+A series.
Dim sum gives us siu mai-ch joy. What else gives us joy? An interview with Khailing Neoh, the owner of the upcoming Sum Bar, a brick-and-mortar dim sum spot. We asked Khailing 8 questions about food + family and found out some sneak peek details of Sum Bar.
(FYI: Dim sum is Chinese small plates — think pork buns + soup-filled dumplings.)
1. Can you explain to us what you do and how you got to where you are today?
My name is Khailing Neoh and I am opening a sustainable dim sum restaurant in Greenville. I come from a background of engineering, but grew up in restaurants all my life. I would be a third generation restaurateur in my family. It feels like my whole life has been leading up to this moment of this itch I need to scratch, which is opening a restaurant. But more importantly, doing it in the way that I would like to do it. I’m bringing authentic Chinese food to Greenville, SC, and I’m excited to do so.
2. What have you learned from your parents’ and grandparents’ restaurant experiences?
So much. I’ve learned that it’s not an easy field to go into, but that it’s 100% relationship-based… it’s all about the people, the relationships you build, how you make people feel, and giving them a comfortable, inviting setting. Making sure that they’re the first priority is one thing that my parents and my grandparents have taught me. Your customers become your friends and your family. And it starts to build this beautiful community of people.
3. Speaking of community, let’s talk about Greenville. What brought you to Greenville?
My partner’s job brought us here. I came from Ohio and I lived in a number of other cities like Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Chattanooga. Once we moved here, it was one of those feelings where we knew we were going to put roots down here and be here for the long haul. So I don’t think I would have opened the restaurant if it were not for Greenville itself. Knowing that Greenville is ready for something like this is very affirming.
4. What element of the dim sum experience are you excited to introduce to Greenville?
I’m excited in general for dim sum to become a household word. Because a huge part of my Chinese American experience was seeking out dim sum. We had to drive an hour away from where I was from, a rural part of Ohio, to Cleveland to get dim sum. For someone in Greenville to be able to grow up and have dim sum right here I think will be a cool upbringing.
5. I saw that you just found a location between Swanson’s Warehouse and Fireforge. Are there any other details about the location that you’re willing to share with us?
I’m very excited about the shared space with Fireforge. It’s covered + uncovered, and there’s a giant beer patio. That’s going to be great to do quick takeout food from us, grab a beer from Fireforge, and also listen to live music.
There’s a lot that we’re gonna do with the shared space that will be exciting. A summer, Asian night market kind of thing would be fun.
6. What form of experimentation are you looking forward to doing with Sum Bar?
I am so excited for the sum of Sum Bar — the dim sum. And then the bar part is obviously the bar. So, I’m so excited for our cocktails. If you look at fruits in grocery stores in the U.S., we probably have a very small percentage of the actual fruits that we could get, and there are a lot out there. So [for example], melon would go great in a cocktail that’s on the sweeter side. Or we [could] use durian, which is a very potent fruit that not everyone likes but could be great to experiment with.
And a lot of herbal teas, I’m excited to create syrups to use as a base. Chrysanthemum tea is a huge dim sum tea, that’s a tip: that’s typically the number one tea they serve at dim sum. Chrysanthemum has notes of honey + natural sweetness. So that’s going to be a great addition to a cocktail.
7. Sum Bar, Fireforge, and live music sounds like a great night out. What’s your ideal night out in Greenville?
I would start with a walk on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, kind of during the day or as the sun sets and then probably doing dinner at GB&D or Sushi-Masa. And then ending the night at one of the many great cocktail spots we have in Greenville. So Exile is a great one. Swordfish is a great one, they are a new neighbor also for us. Then ending it by coming home and probably watching a show like Pachinko.
8. What do you hope Greenville looks like in 10 years?
Right now it feels like there’s a race between corporate growth and small business growth, and Greenville is a huge proponent for both. And you can see that people who love small businesses really put their money and support there. So in 10 years, I really hope that we stay small business oriented. Individually run, mom-and-pop, dream businesses do come up. It’s another reason why I love Greenville so much.