While COVID-19 has thoroughly rocked the restaurant industry, leading to many closures and mass restructuring, other concepts have sprung up, a direct result of the new landscape. For husband and wife team Sara Timmer and Ryan Van Splinter, the decision to bring about their ongoing pop-up concept Oh Golly Dumplings came as a direct result of the added free time and altered reality imposed by the pandemic.
“We’d dream about what-if scenarios. We say it pretty much every day of our lives,” said Van Splinter. “Then COVID happened and the barter system came into play.”
Initially trading and hand-delivering homemade dumplings to friends across the city, the project gained momentum with the first official pop-up held at Run for the Roses on May 8. “It was mostly friends and family,” said Van Splinter. The Oh Golly Instagram launched around six weeks ago and has since become the de facto source of much of duo’s meteoric success. “In this age of COVID, social media speaks,” remarked Van Splinter. The last two events — one at Dio Mio on June 16, with another at Run for the Roses on July 19 — both sold out in under an hour.
Collaboration has been crucial to the disembodied dumpling project. In each instance, Timmer and Van Splinter will send the host the menu around two weeks prior and teams will develop the drink menu to complement the dishes. While Dio Mio favored wine pairings, Run for the Roses built a fresh menu of cocktails, each highlighting the kind of unorthodox ingenuity the basement bar has come to be known for.
“I think what Oh Golly is doing is really great. Everyone is adapting to these crazy times and we were so happy to see Ryan and Sara use that as a catalyst to turn their passion into a new business,” said Run for the Roses owner Steven Waters. “The spirit of collaboration has been a nice positive to see throughout our restaurant community while businesses are struggling and Oh Golly is a great example of that. People are excited to support it, restaurants are offering to host them, brands are wanting to collaborate with them and it just shows their true sense of passion and hospitality each time they do a pop-up. We are thrilled to continue to host them.”
The OG Dumplings ($12) comes six to a bowl and are filled with wagyu beef, cabbage and carrot. Drenched in the house OG sauce the dumplings have become the signature item and the only one that is sure to appear with each event. “It’s our belle of the ball. It’s the first recipe we made and haven’t really messed with,” said Van Splinter with justifiable pride. The Dio Mio pop-up saw the Corny Chorizo ($13) — with house-made chorizo, sweet corn and serrano pepper topped with elote sauce, while the most recent Run for the Roses event was joined by shrimp dumplings ($13) doused in house-made tom kha soup. Waters’ cocktails were predictably off-kilter, with the K.R.E.A.M. Crema ($13) combining kimchi juice, tomato, lime and Del Maguey crema mezcal for a savory cocktail that makes Bloody Marys seem like a bland anachronism.
“We like to find inspirations from restaurants we go to,” said Van Splinter, noting the crab fat caramel wing from Hot Joy in San Antonio may provide a blueprint for dumplings yet to come. The dumplings are obviously a labor of love, each morsel a fine display of the care and consideration the chefs have both for the technique and for their customers. “It’s something we find catharsis in. It’s like crocheting but more delicious,” laughed Van Splinter.
While the initial launch saw one event a month, Timmer and Van Splinter are planning to ramp it up to two beginning in August. “We started doing this for friends and that’s the mentality we want to keep,” said Van Splinter. Even masked-up and from a safe distance the duo have no trouble relaying their hospitality, giving a warm reminder that even in relative isolation, dumplings are the unifying force.
Oh Golly will host another pop-up at Run for the Roses’ temporary location in Free Market at 1801 Blake St., Denver on Saturday, August 1 beginning at 4 p.m. Future events will all be posted on Instagram with ordering links in bio when they become available.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.