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Tim Ma on American Chinese Food, Scaling Restaurants and CPG

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About this episode

In episode 5 of The meez Podcast, host Josh Sharkey interviews Tim Ma, an accomplished chef, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.

Washington D.C. based chef Tim Ma is the founder and CEO of Lucky Danger, the Culinary Director of Laoban Dumplings, co-founder of the nonprofit Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, and a culinary consultant for several major projects across the US. 

In this episode, Tim talks about his non-traditional path to cooking, his experiences scaling restaurants, what it was like cooking for the Vice President, and how his family's heirlooms ended up being featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian American History Museum. Plus, the challenge of systemizing Chinese cooking, which is known for its artistry and complexity. 

Throughout the episode, Tim shares his passion for food and how his non-profit, Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, has continued to raise funds not just for the Asian American community, but in response to all allies in need.  

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Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(3:03) Tim Ma’s background

(4:29) Opening a sandwich shop

(7:40) Cooking for the Vice President

(10:12) Tim’s Smithsonian Exhibit 

(15:54) Being Chinese in Arkansas 

(18:39) Tim’s Early Business Lessons

(22:22) How Tim maintains consistency

(25:15) How to operationalize American Chinese food

(28:59) What is American-Chinese Food?

(33:08) Is iterating ever done?

(36:17) Why Tim loves to open new concepts and restaurants

(38:45) What it’s like starting a CPG business

(48:14) What inspired Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate?

(53:48) Helping people chase dreams

(55:50) Tim’s biggest influences


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:  

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.


My guest today is a friend, an incredible chef, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Tim Ma. Tim is the founder and CEO of Lucky Danger Restaurants, the culinary director of Laoban Dumpling, co-founder of the nonprofit chef stopping AAPI Hate, along with fellow DC Chef Kevin Tian, as well as a culinary consultant for several major projects across the us.

Tim has had incredible success as a chef. And comes from a family of restaurant owners of whom, along with Tim, have been honored as part of an ongoing exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum on transforming the American table. I caught up with Tim a week after he had the honor of attending the first ever Lunar New Year celebration at the White House, introducing Vice President Kamala Harris, and being the first outside chef ever to cook at the Vice President's residence.


We had a wide ranging conversation about building food businesses, launching CPG products, growing up as an Asian American kid in Arkansas, the trials and tribulations of running a restaurant and much more. I hope you enjoy it.


This podcast is brought to you by meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. As a chef and restaurant owner for the past 20 years, I was frustrated that the only technology that we had in the kitchen was financial or inventory software. Those are important, but they don't address the actual process of cooking, training, collaboration, and consistent execution.


So I decided if it didn't exist, I'd do my best to get it built so the current and next generation of culinary pros have a digital tool dedicated to their craft. If you're a chef, mixologist operator, or generally if you manage recipes intended for professional kitchens, meez is built just for you.


Organize, share, prep, and scale your recipes like never before. And get laser accurate food costs and nutrition analysis faster than you could imagine. Learn more at

Josh Sharkey [00:02:31]:

Tim, welcome to the pod. 

Tim Ma [00:02:32]:

Hey, thanks for having me. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:34]:

Good to have you here, man. Where are you calling us from? 

Tim Ma [00:02:37]:

I'm calling you from the complex where I have several restaurants. Actually, we just opened one yesterday, so it's in Arlington, Virginia, but a lot of my stuff is in DC too. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:46]:

Nice, man. Well, yeah, I wanna, I wanna hear more about that. Obviously you and I know each other a bit. We've gotten to know each other over the years from Indie Chefs and cooking a little bit together. Hearing, you know, the stories of you scaling your businesses and things, but maybe for the audience, just give a little bit of background on how you got to where you are today and what you're up to now.

Tim Ma [00:03:03]:

I have a very non-traditional path to cooking restaurants. So I was an engineer for a long time, an electrical engineer. I have a master's from Johns Hopkins and an undergrad degree from Georgia Tech in Electrical and Computer engineering. And I took a very non-traditional path to get to culinary school at the age of 30. So I went to French Culinary Institute, and you know at 30 you're already over the hill for chefs, so I very quickly got to opening restaurants and I'll go into it as we talk more, but I guess have opened over like 15 concepts over the past 13, 14 years. Opened and closed a bunch, but still here, still kicking.

Josh Sharkey [00:03:44]: 

So tell us about what you're working on right now. You're in a complex, you said.

Tim Ma [00:03:49]: 

I mean what's opening right now in this complex out in Arlington, Virginia. It's called Pentagon Row or West Coast, but I’m opening Lucky Danger. It’s like my big project right now, which is this American Chinese takeout that we're looking to scale our first brick and mortar out here. 


Just yesterday we reopened one of my old concepts called Chase the Submarine. My middle son's name is Chase. Middle son never gets anything, so he got the restaurant. It was like a modern sandwich shop that we opened in Vienna, Virginia way back in like 2015 and then it closed, I forgot when, like several years later and decided to reopen it here in 2023. And so just reopened yesterday. 

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