“We are grateful for the community support especially from our guests over the last year as we have made changes to the way we have been doing business and trying new things. We are committed to continuing to work to create our way of hospitality for people no matter how it looks.”
Ugly Dumpling(Ugly) is as unique as it’s name. Darren, chef and owner, opened Ugly in 2018 on Commercial Drive with a take on farm-to-table Asian cuisine. The restaurant immediately shut down when the provincial restrictions were in place in response to Covid-19. Darren made over 40,000 frozen dumplings for home deliveries during that time as a way of pivoting. The restaurant eventually reopened and, as his focus shifted more towards dining again, he was joined by two great friends in hospitality, Miki and Stephen from Dachi. Dachi is a hip wine-and-dine spot in neighbouring Hastings-Sunrise; three of them became co-owners of Ugly in November 2020.
VOICE(V): “Why did you decide to become co-owners of Ugly?”
Miki(M): “My business partner, Stephen, and I started Dachi around the same time as Ugly, and we have been friends and supportive of one another. Stephen and I love the restaurant and we would go every week to eat. When things got really challenging through the pandemic, we were all figuring out how to navigate our businesses and Darren was looking for full time support at front-of-house. He asked if I would be interested. I thought, why not? Stephen and I now split our time between Dachi and Ugly and we are thrilled to be a part of the team. This partnership came out of friendship and it happened quite naturally for us.
The more we thought about it, the more it made sense because we do sake along with natural wine and cocktail at Dachi, and Ugly also serves sake. We both share the same ethos of local, farm-to-table dining with great beverage programs and we have a lot of the same regulars. It’s not about being competitive, it is more about bringing both up.”
V: “ Have any of your offerings changed in the face of this pandemic?”
M: “We thrive on trying new things but our ethos has always stayed the same. We are committed to local farmers and artisans, highlighting their beautiful ingredients in as simple and organic way as possible. We always try to keep the focus on the food, beverages and the quality of the products that we are working with. The goal of the food here isn’t to be necessarily pretty or instagramable but we are cooking food that we want to eat and let the ingredients shine and speak for themselves. We have patio gardens and we grow a lot of food here as well. It is a beautiful way of connecting people to the food – they see it in the soil and then on their plate. Our menu changes daily and never stays the same, so we don’t list the menu on our website. Dumpling flavours can change weekly and we also offer our daily staff meal (the day of the interview, it was onsen egg and mushroom on rice) and 7-course omakase for a full experience of our seasonal and favourite dishes of the day. The omakase menu can change even during the day! You just have to trust us. Every Sunday, we make hand-crafted, hand-cut ni-hachi style soba from 80% organic local buckwheat flour noodles. It is so delicious! Our Asian inspired menu has a lot of Japanese flavours and sensibility to it, and the food pairs nicely with our rotating list of sake, natural wine and local craft beer.”
Beverage has been her strong suit as Miki has been working in the Food and Beverage industry since she was 17 years old. Before Dachi, Miki and Stephen were co-workers at Miku and Minami of Aburi Restaurants Canada, and she was running their sake program for 8 years. Particularly she has been fascinated with sake and made many trips to Japan over the years to study and visit sake breweries there.
V: “Tell us about your sake journey.”
M: “ I really love studying sake. It is very interesting particularly on the story telling side; how and why people start making sake, and learn about their passion and creation. I like sharing that story. I was a history major at UBC so maybe I had that influence on me. Through many sake studying trips to Japan, my time at Yoshi no Gawa was most memorable as I got really hands-on experience at the brewery. I learnt a lot at Aramasa in Akita and by contrast Dassai in Yamaguchi, loved visiting Kozaemon in Gifu, and have been several times to see the folks at Yamaguchi Shuzo in Fukuoka.
All of the sake at Ugly is directly imported from Japan except YK3, a local sake brewery out in Richmond. We usually have around 15-20 sake on the list and we are also lucky in BC to have many very cool, craft breweries I love, and carry many of them at Ugly.”
V: “Have you noticed any change in restaurant dining habits during Covid-19?”
M: “It has been quite beautiful to see a little bit of a shift for the people who are comfortable coming out and dining-in. Going out feels like much more of a special occasion now because it wasn’t available for a time period and even now it feels a little bit limited. I find people are a lot more present with each other at the table whereas before, it was a mix of engaging conversation and tending to your phone. People are valuing going out more and when they do go out, they really want to cherish the moment. Ugly wants to create a sense of community and a sense of place for people who come to dine with us.”
Everyone is welcome at Ugly. Whether just a casual glass of sake and snack or special occasion with family and friends, they will take care of you with a nourishing dining experience. Please go find out yourself what’s on the menu tonight because you will never know unless you sit at the table.