Lucas Lin is the one and only Dumpling Man, a beloved icon of hipster snacking in the East Village, and he’s not letting some other dumpling upstart copy his style. Since his shop, with its Super Mario–esque logo, opened on St. Marks Place in July, it’s become a cult sensation, scoring hungry celebrities like Drea de Matteo and Sandra Bernhard, two Food Network appearances, and a spot in an upcoming Lindsay Lohan movie. Then, last month, a similar logo appeared on a not-yet-opened storefront on East 11th Street over the words PLUMP DUMPLING. Customers congratulated Lin on the expansion.
But Lin says that dumpling is nothing but a cheap doppelgänger. The Taiwan native, who got the idea for his store from Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl while interviewing her for the Chinese-language World Journal, has gone Sun Tzu to defend his smiling dumpling. He’s plastered his shop with flyers and is thinking about encouraging customers to “spy” on Plump Dumpling (informants would win a free Dumpling Man T-shirt). Last week, his lawyer, Charles B. Kramer, delivered a “cease and desist” letter to Plump Dumpling: “Behind the fame and popularity of Dumpling Man is its dumplings, of course, but even more, perhaps, is its famous endearing Dumpling Man logo.” And, even with her long, feminine eyelashes, Plump Dumpling could cause confusion. “They’re like a dumpling couple working the East Village,” says Kramer, comparing it to Pac-Man and the follow-up game Ms. Pac-Man.
If the logo wasn’t enough, Lin says, Plump Dumpling is actively misleading dumpling fans. Christopher Cush, who works at a hot-dog shack on St. Marks, says he asked a construction worker there, “like, two, three times, ‘Is this another Dumpling Man?’ They were like, ‘Yes, yes, another one.’ ”
Lin finally spoke with Peter Day, a co-owner of Plump Dumpling, last week and warned him, “If you open that store and use that logo, you will be in very deep trouble.”
During a brief tour of Plump Dumpling’s interior, Day says the whole thing is a misunderstanding. He was quick to note that he’ll be serving noodles as well as dumplings (unlike Lin) and that the workers Cush spoke to don’t understand English well and didn’t understand what he was asking. And in any case, he promised that when the shop opens in a month, the logo will be different.
Lin will believe it when he sees it, saying Day offered to “take out the eyes and mouth and put a pair of chopsticks on the face. He actually proposed that.”
“He kept saying, ‘We’re all Chinese,’ ” says Lin. “What the hell does that mean? I said, ‘Well, since we’re both Chinese, I want to give you some advice. The East Village is one of the toughest neighborhoods to run a restaurant. People want something nice and trendy that has character. And if you are doing what you’re doing now, it’s lacking all of that. And you’re going to close. Very soon.’ ”