After closing a beloved French bakery, a Salt Lake City woman returns to sell Chinese buns

Romina Rasmussen and the Yee brothers launch Xiao Bao Bao, first as a pop-up.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Romina Rasmussen steams Chinese buns at Xiao Bao Bao bakery, on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Not long after she opened her French bakery, Les Madeleines, Salt Lake City baker/owner Romina Rasmussen met Derrick and Dwight Yee, whose grandfather once owned the China Doll Café on North Temple and later on Redwood Road.

The three “often joked about opening a dumpling shop, because we all missed dumplings,” Rasmussen said. “I lived in Asia for six years, and also have fond memories of bao.” Bao are steamed Chinese buns filled with meat or vegetables, and are a familiar street food across Asia.

“We missed a lot of things we really liked: Street food, baos and dumplings,” Derrick Yee said, adding that he studied abroad in Taiwan and the Yees have family in Hong Kong. “We loved the Asian bakeries, etc. — we really missed having that.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The new Xiao Bao Bao bakery sells Bao (steamed Chinese buns), on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

The idea to sell bao has become a reality, as the three have launched their new business, Xiao Bao Bao — the name means “little” and “full” — with a pop-up last week in the storefront where Les Madeleines sat before Rasmussen ended the bakery’s 19-year-run in December.

The permanent location for Xiao Bao Bao is at 212 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City — next door to the Les Madeleines location, in what used to be the Dewey Bail Bonds office. A door was added to connect the two spaces, which share a kitchen. Xiao Bao Bao will be take-out only, and eventually will sell not only fresh bao but frozen dumplings that can be cooked at home.

In its first outing as a pop-up on Friday, Xiao Bao Bao seems to be a success. A line formed when the doors opened at noon, with people who heard about the pop-up through word of mouth and Rasmussen’s Instagram posts. The location was scheduled to be open from noon to 3 p.m., but it sold out of buns before 2 o’clock, with the line still snaking out of the bakery and onto the sidewalk.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Long lines of guest wait outside Xiao Bao Bao, for someone to exit the bakery so they can enter. The new bakery sells Bao (steamed Chinese buns), on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Rasmussen, on Instagram, promised more pop-ups while construction is completed on the store’s permanent location.

The venture combines the Yees’ family dishes and Asian street food concepts with Rasmussen’s experience and baking expertise.

“My grandmother had her versions that she would make,” Yee said. “We tried to recreate them, but she never had a recipe. Partnering with a professional like Romina, we are trying to recreate them the best we can.”

The Yee brothers both work their day jobs — Derrick with a trip rental startup, Placemakr, and Dwight with the architecture firm he owns, Process Studio. They help with menu creation and development, and taste testing.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The new Xiao Bao Bao bakery sells Bao (steamed Chinese buns), on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen was participating in Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, when the plan for Xiao Bao Bao was developed. In the last three weeks of the program, Rasmussen changed her growth business plan to include the new concept — which also kept her in Utah, instead of moving to California as she had planned.

“It was very much a group effort, all the recipes, the three of us were involved with all of their creation,” Rasmussen said.

The flavors include a chicken curry bao and a barbecue pork bao with cabbage, as well as two vegan options: bok choy with shiitake mushrooms, and a slightly spicy eggplant bao. There will be rotating specials every month, and Rasmussen is employing her pastry chef skills to create a dessert bao. (At Friday’s pop-up, the store sold coconut custard bao.)

True to Rasmussen’s style, the ingredients are high-quality, she said — including free-range chicken and Sakura pork. Each bao sells for between $4 and $5.

“I was not a fan of barbecue pork bao, but I like ours,” Rasmussen said. “The pork tends to be too sweet for me, but I think ours has a nice balance.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The new Xiao Bao Bao bakery sells Bao (steamed Chinese buns), on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Rasmussen said that, technically, “these are not bao buns. They are Chinese buns or steamed buns.”

The Yees said the buns are their take on the traditional Chinese buns that they’ve enjoyed over the years — but they’re not too concerned about rigid authenticity.

“I am looking forward to sharing these recipes with people,” Dwight Yee said. “Food for me has always been more nostalgic; the beauty of food ties you to amazing memories. When we eat them and make them, we can think about how much fun we had at the time. We hope it becomes nostalgic for someone else down the road, that people will remember when they ate their first bun from us.”

Xiao Bao Bao will announce plans for future pop-ups — as well as a date for the opening of their permanent location at 212 E. 500 South, Salt Lake Cit — on the store’s Instagram account, @xiaobaobaoslc.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.