Dumpling Darling to close permanently

After four years of serving street-style dumplings on Iowa Avenue, the South Korean-inspired restaurant will close its doors for good on Dec. 19.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Dumpling Darling, a restaurant in downtown Iowa City, is seen on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Dumpling Darling will be closing Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021.

Josie Fischels, Managing Editor

Thousands of students will leave Iowa City next week for winter break, but one restaurant will not be waiting for them when they come back.

On Monday morning, Dumpling Darling announced that the fusion restaurant will officially close on Dec. 19.

In a letter to customers on social media, the restaurant cited product and labor shortages, as well as the challenges of operating during the pandemic as contributing factors to its closure.

“This decision wasn’t an easy one but we know deep down it is the right thing,” the letter read. “Operating under these current circumstances isn’t serving our staff, our customers, or ourselves.”

Veronica Tessler, who co-owns Dumpling Darling with founder Lesley Rish, said the pandemic has made the pair reconsider their priorities as business owners. Both women also own Nosh Cafe and Eatery in Des Moines, and Tessler owns Yotopia in Iowa City.

“I think a lot of us during this time, especially in [the] small-business world, have had to reevaluate where our time goes,” Tessler said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “This is an agreement that we came to together, and we see this as an opportunity to focus our attention on our other businesses.”

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Dumpling Darling began as a stand at the Iowa City farmer’s market in 2014, started by University of Iowa alum Rish after she returned from South Korea, where she taught English for a year. After expanding to selling dumplings at Cedar Rapids’ NewBo Market and then sharing a brick-and-mortar location with another restaurant, the business got its own space at 213 Iowa Ave. in February 2017, marketing itself under the slogan “globally-inspired dumplings and street food with a Midwest twist.”

This year, Dumpling Darling has operated under limited or adjusted hours for much of the fall, partly because of staffing shortages, General Manager Katie Weedman said. The restaurant had previously posted in November about being short-staffed and sent out a call for applications.

“We have a lot of students on our staff, and so we don’t want to just force people to work hours that they’re unable to,” she said. “We rely on individuals to pick up shifts in our job, and so a lot of people are just unable to with school. And so when people would call out sick, we would just not really have the adequate staff to fill those positions.”

Since the announcement, Weedman said it’s been a little busier in the restaurant as customers come to get their final dumpling fix.

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“We’re prepared, we’ve been having back of house stock quite a bit more just to prepare for the closing statement because we know that from what happened in Dumpling Darling in Des Moines; you just get slammed. So we’re getting prepared for that.”

Dumpling Darling’s Des Moines location closed in November 2019.

While its brick-and-mortar location is closing, the letter announcing the closure said there may be opportunities for Dumpling Darling’s food to return. Tessler said nothing concrete is in the works yet, but she can see Dumpling Darling coming back in some other fashion.

“Dumpling might, down the road, be kind of reimagined in a different format,” she said. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re open to what opportunities lie in the future.”

No matter what is next for the restaurant, Weedman said she will miss it.

“I love Dumpling Darling,” she said. “I don’t know why I love this restaurant so much, but all of the coworkers I’ve ever worked with here have been amazing. The environment that we have, it’s like a safe space. I feel like we have a really wonderful customer base, and I’m sad to lose that because I don’t know any other environment that’s like this.”