Berkeley alumnus opens Chinese-style restaurant: Famous Bao

Jihoon Park/Staff

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On Thursday, UC Berkeley alumnus Francis Sun opened Famous Bao, a Chinese-style eatery that aims to provide affordable and healthy meals to students.

The restaurant, located on Durant Avenue, features inexpensive menu items inspired by authentic recipes from the Xi’an region of China.

“Berkeley needs healthier, cleaner and affordable food,” Sun said. “I hope that our restaurant can become a part of their student life.”

Sun graduated in 2011 with a double major in political science and media studies. During his time as a student, he said he often cooked meals for himself and his friends because of financial difficulties.

He had not expected to stay in Berkeley or go into the restaurant business, he said, but looked to the food industry after the economic climate left him without a solid career path. After graduating, Sun opened a Vietnamese restaurant on Northside called Camille — which he closed before moving back to China for two years.

Sun went to great lengths in researching dishes for his menu, even sending his head chef to Xi’an, China — an area known for its Chinese-Muslim style cuisine —  to research popular dishes. Besides looking at recipes, he also studied food trends from his home country, such as the Chinese burger.

Each menu item was hand-picked for Sun’s standards of authenticity, taste and health. Dishes such as the sweet and sour pork or the lamb meat soup, for instance, are both slow-cooked in house with minimal frying.

Menu items range in price from $3 to $10, with the most expensive item being the “Imperial Iron Pot,” a dish containing large portions of vegetables, meats and fish, all of which are cooked in the same pot the customer receives when dining in.

Sun began planning for Famous Bao last year, but was finally set to open the restaurant after negotiating the use of the space with the plaza’s landlord and the previous occupant, Dot Island Grill.

Dot Island Grill, the previous restaurant that occupied the space recently replaced by Famous Bao, closed its doors because of a dwindling customer base, according to Sun.

Several employees at neighboring restaurants were surprised to see Dot Island Grill close, including Yogurt Park employees Liz Ellithorpe and Matthew Helmstetter.

“I noticed they were closing earlier and looked quieter, but then it suddenly closed,” Ellithorpe said.

According to Helmstetter, students who lived in the nearby residence hall units used to frequent Dot Island Grill prior to its closure. For Yogurt Park employees, the convenience of having Famous Bao next door is enough of a factor for them to test out the restaurant, Helmstetter added.

Famous Bao will begin serving its namesake bao buns —  steamed buns with a savory filling  —  next month. Later in the summer, it will also offer one free bao bun to UC Berkeley students who bring their school IDs to the restaurant.

“Food is love — there is no boundary,” Sun said. “(The buns) are little, but I hope one bao can help the community.”

Famous Bao will be posting dates of this offer and other specials on its Facebook page during the summer.

Contact Vera Esail at [email protected].