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South Florida Sun Sentinel

‘The dumpling provides’: Mother-and-son Instagram eatery becomes a takeout restaurant - at Jack and Jill Children’s Center

By Phillip Valys, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,

Calvin and Shirley Shea of Calvin Dumplings demonstrate how they make their dumplings at 1315 Kitchen, the Jack and Jill Children's Center's repurposed kitchen on their Fort Lauderdale campus. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS

Calvin Dumplings, the Instagram-born dumpling business Calvin Shea started in his Fort Lauderdale home while quarantining with his mother , Shirley, has gotten too big.

His account @calvindumplings has surged to 81,000 followers in two years. His kitchen chest freezer was bursting with so many pickup orders for dumplings he couldn’t keep the lid closed. And the fervor only intensified in early March when Shea started teasing a “major announcement” to come.

His Insta-fans, keen to gush about everything from Shirley’s flattering silver bob to Calvin’s delicate hand-crimping of dumpling dough, began speculating wildly: “Please be a cookbook, please be a cookbook,” one commenter wrote, adding the prayer-hand emoji. Others nailed it on the first guess: “Please say you are going to open up a restaurant! Your mom is such a beautiful lady.”

Yes, it’s a restaurant (and yes, the other part is also true): Starting this weekend, Shea will sell his dumplings to the public out of his new takeout-only space, Calvin Dumplings, at a commissary called the 1315 Kitchen at Jack and Jill Children’s Center in Fort Lauderdale.

In an unusual partnership for a nonprofit, the Jack and Jill Children’s Center on West Broward Boulevard, a campus sitting on prime real estate near downtown, is renting out its unused kitchen. Calvin Dumplings will take over the 750-square-foot kitchen along with a second independent food business – sMiles Gourmet Pudding – a shop dishing eight types of banana pudding owned by Plantation chef Brad Turetzky.

“The rent is significantly low,” Calvin says, sizzling potstickers on a skillet during a recent kitchen walk-through. “I didn’t have to buy any equipment. It already has commercial-grade hoods and walk-in freezers and I can do 10 times the traffic. And on top of that, it’s keeping mom engaged and relevant.”

The kitchen is strictly for pickups, no dine-in, so customers can order exactly what they ordered from Shea’s house: six varieties of dumplings along with tangy, scallion-based dipping sauces ($4 each). Dumplings – fillings include pork, chicken, shrimp, turkey, shitake mushroom and jalapeno scallion – cost $15-$26 per vacuum-sealed dozen.

Customers, for now, can DM their orders on the @calvindumplings account, with a website to launch soon. After scheduling a pickup, customers must meet Calvin at a side gate on Northwest 14th Avenue for the handoff. (Jack and Jill won’t allow customers on campus for the safety of the children.)

Alana Wortsman, Jack and Jill’s director of business development, acknowledges the weirdness of her nonprofit getting into the restaurant landlord business. But with the center’s new $11 million Madelaine Halmos Academy building that opened on the same campus last summer – with its own state-of-the-art kitchen, no less – Wortsman realized that Jack and Jill had an extra kitchen it didn’t need.

She thought: Why not give it to a restaurant owner?

“I’d read all these ghost kitchens were booming because of COVID, and our kitchen would just sit here if I didn’t do something about it,” Wortsman says.

Even the state of Florida thought it was weird. Wortsman went back and forth for a year with the state’s Department of Children and Families, Department of Health and Department of Business and Professional Regulation. None of them knew which agency, exactly, should regulate a public commissary that used to be a private nonprofit kitchen serving underprivileged kids. Finally, in February, Florida green-lit the space under a new name: 1315 Kitchen .

While Wortsman waited for approvals a coworker, Maria Meyer, told her she bought dumpling sauce all the time from a Chinese mother-and-son duo on Instagram. She told Wortsman they made dumplings together to rekindle a lost relationship. She told Wortsman that, on Instagram, pinching, folding and filling dumplings let them bond over a dish they hadn’t made together for 30 years.

“Calvin and Shirley’s story was so inspiring, it showed our staff that you can recover from any struggles,” she says. “And look at where they are now. We get to be little guinea pigs and taste their foods.”

Of course, Jack and Jill gets something out of the transaction beyond savory samples: an extra revenue stream. All rent money is funneled back into the center, which serves 203 children and sometimes their parents, often single mothers.

“For me, it’s kismet,” says Calvin, by day a student recruiter for a London university. “I see a lot of similarities with Jack and Jill because of what they do for single moms and their children. My mom was a single mom who raised three children. It just feels right.”

And Shirley, for one, is ecstatic about Calvin’s upgraded digs.

“When he was a kid, in the mornings we go to the market together, and I buy ingredients to make dumplings, and he learned, seeing me,” Shirley, 82, says of their life in Taiwan. “And now, look, he’s here.

“The dumpling provides. This is old nature food making you healthy. It makes families so happy.”

For Brad Turetzky, moving his sMiles Gourmet Pudding outfit into a proper kitchen – and out of the family kitchen – sure made his wife happy. Named after his 2-year-old Miles, Turetzky’s pandemic business started after he was laid off from Chez Gourmet Catering in Boynton Beach. The Culinary Institute of America graduate said he started making over-the-top banana pudding, inspired by the recipe at New York’s Magnolia Bakery, because “no one was doing anything like that here,” he says.

“I started getting 200 deliveries a week, all from Instagram ,” says Turetzky, 34, while folding condensed milk into a batter of Nilla Wafers and pecan-pie chunks. “When people think of pudding, they might think of grandma’s fridge pudding or hospital food. But when they try mine, they can’t get enough.”

Turetzky dishes banana pudding in 16-ounce pints ($8-$10), and flavors include carrot cake (a mini-slice tops the dessert), cookies and cream and a version with Key lime pie chunks, which he served at the 2021 South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

Calvin never intended to run a restaurant, but now that he’s scaling up the business, he’s happy he and Shirley can keep bonding over dumplings.

“I want to make mom the star,” he says. “To make this transition at her age, it’s critical that she feels like South Florida is her home.”

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