One of the most anticipated restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina, Sum Bar (307 East Washington Street), is set to open this weekend with a Lunar New Year celebration.
The location shares a courtyard with Fireforge Crafted Beer, where the building stood as Watson Tire Co. for decades. Pre-pandemic, the space was under contract for Flock Shop, a hot chicken concept by the Willy Taco team, who imagined a second chapter of the property next to the craft brewery. But it was chef Khailing Neoh who penned the final deal with David Stone, cementing that her pop-up dim sum business would get a brick-and-mortar location.
Sum Bar is known for handmade shumai. Neoh’s Chinese dumplings often sold out at pop-ups, pushing guests to try other dishes such as the long-roasted char siu barbecue pork, delicate fried sesame balls filled with sweetened taro paste, and chili wontons.
The opening menu has more items, including multiple types of dumplings. “I love the idea of getting served a hot bowl of dumplings,” Neoh says. They arrive with chili oil and Sum Bar sauce, an emulsion of soy, rice vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, and a little sugar.
There will be egg custard tarts, made in-house, and Chinese broccoli with garlic and oyster sauce, a dish that has garnered a cult following. Neoh hopes a blistered green bean dish named “Grandma’s Green Beans” will follow suit. Though she grew up working in her grandmother’s restaurant, as well as her mother’s restaurant (both in Ohio), she rarely spent time in the kitchen. It was after college that Neoh began cooking with her grandmother at her home, learning to make the foods of interior China.
But she has no plans to stick with tradition at Sum Bar, starting with dim sum, a menu typically served at brunch. Neoh will offer the items during all restaurant hours: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night, Friday through Sunday, with an additional Thursday dinner service.
Even pork and scallion dumplings will get a new spin, some made with chicken and shitake, and a vegetable variation mixed with two types of tofu. “I love the idea of using other ingredients to space out the menu,” says Neoh. “We’ll have items for vegetarians and those that are gluten-free. I want Sum Bar to be a place to come to eat with anyone.”
Neoh calls Sum Bar “a sustainable restaurant,” an important value to her as a restaurateur. There will be no takeout and no boxes for leftovers, items Neoh finds wasteful, and she is trying to eliminate as many single-use items as possible. The restaurant has contracted with Atlas Organics to compost kitchen waste as well, something that Fireforge also does.
No item crests $14, and the menu is designed for dishes to be shared, passed, and tasted again. “I don’t even know how to eat just the thing I ordered,” says Neoh.
The bar menu includes many Asian-leaning offerings, and Neoh hopes to introduce Greenville’s drinking palate to baijiu.
Opening celebrations begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 21, and will run until 2 a.m. on January 22 (Lunar New Year). Expect food, drink, dancing, and local vendors.