This is Brian Goldberg, the Founder & CEO of Mr. Bing. Brian opened his first Mr. Bing location in Hong Kong in 2013 but the road that led him to Mr. Bing (and eventually back to the U.S.) is a very long and interesting one. Born and raised in Rockland County, New York, he says that his love for Chinese culture comes from a combination of relationships, food, language, film, music and literature. He grew up eating Chinese food once a week with his family. Whether it was ordering in on Friday night or going out to eat on Sunday, it was part of the culture in his community, so much so that his father taught him how to use chopsticks at age 7. In college he was required to take a language and, having grown tired of the Spanish classes that he’d taken all his life and that he’d also learned from his father (who was a Spanish teacher), he decided to take Mandarin because he was dating a girl whose family spoke Mandarin. During this time he got really into Chinese film and music and ended up majoring in Chinese. He was studying abroad in Beijing, China in 1998 when he was first introduced to the jianbing (pronounced jen-bing), a savory Chinese street crepe that a little, old lady would cook on the back of a bicycle cart outside his dorm room every morning. He had one every day when he was abroad and loved them so much that he told himself that he would bring them back to the U.S. one day. Although it would be years before he acted on this desire, it was during his time in China as a student that the idea for Mr. Bing was born. Today Brian has contributed to the food fabric of New York with his introduction of the jianbing and is committed to expanding the product’s capabilities to make bings a part of mainstream culture in the U.S.
Brian was supposed to go to medical school after returning from China and receiving his undergraduate degree but decided to do a Masters in Chinese Studies at Columbia University instead. During this Masters program he was required to take a few classes at the business school, one of which was entrepreneurship. He was asked to write a business plan for anything he wanted, so he wrote one for Goldberg’s Chinese Crepes, a six page plan that focused on creating a chain of street carts around NYC, modeled after the hot dog stands that you can find on most corners and the bicycle carts that jianbings were traditionally sold off of in China. While completing his Masters degree, Brian was also competing as a professional athlete in luge, which was a huge passion of his. He competed for a few years and traveled around the world, simultaneously working as the translator for the Chinese and Taiwanese national teams. He retired after the 2002 Olympics and since he had no money or experience in the food industry to execute the plan for the bing business that he had worked on during his Masters program, he put the idea on hold and started working for NBC.
Brian worked as an NBC page and bilingual tour guide at 30 Rock, leading English and Chinese tours of the TV studios before moving over to CNBC and working as an assistant producer at the New York Stock Exchange. Next NBC moved him to Singapore to help cover Asian business news, which he did for a few years and then worked as a sports reporter for a few years as well. However, he really enjoyed his time at the New York Stock Exchange so he decided to leave the journalism industry and started working in finance for an investment bank. He spent ten years at this bank, first living in Taiwan and then Hong Kong. Although he enjoyed his time in finance and was learning a lot, he started getting tired of the industry and began thinking about what was next for him. He always knew that he wanted to start his own business one day but didn’t know what the business should be. Then, about six years ago while he was living in Hong Kong, he was in Beijing for a weekend trip and ate a jianbing and all of his earlier ideas came rushing back to his mind. He remembered his old business plan for Goldberg’s Chinese Crepes and figured it was time to put his plan into action. So he changed the business name to Mr. Bing, combined his money with some money from a friend and opened a little store in the financial district in Hong Kong. He ran this store for two years while also working in finance. And although they were the first restaurant making bings in Hong Kong, since they were mixed in with many other types of Asian food, they were forced to sell the food at really low prices and it was hard to make a profit. However, he noticed that most of his customers were from Northern China or were expats from the U.S., Australia and the U.K. He realized that Hong Kong wasn’t the right market for his bings and that they would do much better in the U.S. because there was no one else creating the product there. So he shut down his Hong Kong operation, quit his job in finance, sold his apartment and moved back to New York in 2015.
Instead of opening a store front right away, Brian introduced Mr. Bing to the New York market by doing pop ups: the Garment District pop up, Broadway Bites, Madison Square Eats, Bryant Park Winter Village, etc. He did this circuit for about a year and won the Vendy Award for Best New Street Food in New York. During this time, he met the owners of Urbanspace who offered him his first permanent location at the Vanderbilt food hall. It opened in January 2017 and based on how well it was doing, they were able to raise enough capital from professional investors to open their second location in Times Square. This past year, Mr. Bing opened it’s first storefront in Chelsea, which doubles as their headquarters and also has a commissary kitchen for their catering business, which Brian says is doing very well. They’ve partnered with food service companies like Aramark and Compass Group to do institutional catering at companies like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Twitter and LinkedIn where they open Mr. Bing kiosks that rotate throughout the year. They’ve also expanded their menu to include dumplings, baos, bubble tea, egg drop soup and most recently, rice bowls. And although they’ve gotten some criticism from Chinese customers who say their bings aren’t authentic because they’re not the bings that they grew up eating (Mr. Bing offers a variety of meat fillings), Brian is committed to preserving the traditional bing that they started out creating. He admits that although their bings are very authentic to what you’ll find in China, Mr. Bing isn’t a 100% replica of the jianbing and he doesn’t want it to be. Their menu is more Westernized and is an evolving process that they’re always trying to improve. Being in New York, they have to listen to what customers want and develop their offerings to meet those demands. However, whether a customer loves the bings or thinks they’re just okay, he finds that most customers, Chinese customers especially, are just happy that they’re here.
Moving forward, Brian’s plan is to open more locations in New York and to continue to perfect the business model before expanding to other cities. He wants to improve their operations, streamline production and tell their story more, so that they can teach more people about where the food comes from. He would also like to incorporate more modern Chinese culture into their stores and kiosks with music and art but says that they’re not there yet. Right now the company’s mission is to introduce bings and other Northern Chinese street foods such as dumplings and baos to the Western world and in order to do so, they have to make sure that they do bings really well. For Brian, the most rewarding part of the business is seeing the impact that Mr. Bing has had on the New York food scene as he’s watched the gradual increase of people who know what bings are and love them as much as he does. It’s amazing to watch people realizing that bings exist and understand that there’s another type of Chinese food that they’ve never had before that Mr. Bing is bringing them. The growing knowledge of this unique and fun product is a testament to Brian that what he and his team are doing is meaningful and although he says he’s “only giving people good food”, he feels like he’s made his mark on the world.
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