Din Tai Fung founder Yang Bing-yi dies, aged 96

Mr Yang Bing-yi was born in China’s Shanxi Province in 1927. PHOTOS: DIN TAI FUNG TAIWAN

TAIPEI – The founder of international restaurant chain Din Tai Fung, known for its signature steamed soup dumplings, xiao long bao, has died. He was 96.

The family of Mr Yang Bing-yi has asked for privacy while they make funeral arrangements, the restaurant said in a statement on Saturday. 

According to Din Tai Fung’s website, Mr Yang was born in China’s Shanxi province in 1927. At the age of 21, he boarded a ship from Shanghai to Taiwan in the middle of the Chinese Civil War with just US$20 in his pocket.

In 1958, Mr Yang and his wife started a cooking oil business in Taipei named Din Tai Fung – a combination of names from cooking oil supplier Din Mei and Mr Yang’s former employer Heng Tai Fung. 

When sales started to dip, the couple took the advice of a friend to change their business strategy and start selling something else within the same shop space.

That something else would be xiao long bao – handmade and known for the thin and delicate skin with a precise 18 folds.

As word of mouth got around about the couple’s delicious steaming pockets of soup dumplings, they shut down the cooking oil business. 

However, in the restaurant’s original outlet in Taipei’s Yongkang shopping district, its old signboard – Din Tai Fung Oil Company – is still hung near the door.

The eatery made headlines in 1993 when The New York Times named it one of the world’s top 10 restaurants. It was the only Asian eatery to make the list.

Today, Din Tai Fung has turned into a mega franchise with more than 170 locations in 13 territories. The Hong Kong branch was awarded one Michelin star for five consecutive years from 2010.

In Singapore, its 23 restaurants are operated by BreadTalk Group.

Din Tai Fung’s chief executive is Mr Yang’s eldest son Yang Jihua, who took over the reins in 1995 and made customer service one of the restaurant’s hallmarks.

The family of Mr Yang Bing-yi has asked for privacy while they make funeral arrangements. PHOTO: DIN TAI FUNG/FACEBOOK

According to a 2020 ABC News report, Din Tai Fung’s workers go through rigorous training that involves learning specific phrases to greet guests, how to smile, and even how to properly brush their teeth.

On social media, Taiwanese fans reacted to Mr Yang’s death with promises to head to the restaurant and eat xiao long bao.

“Thank you for putting Taiwan on the world map. Everyone knows about how delicious our food is because of you,” one user commented on Facebook. 

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