During the COVID-19 pandemic, Khailing Neoh began to dream of the idea of opening his own restaurant.
Although she is from Canton, Ohio, she holds strong to her Chinese-American roots, following in the footsteps of her parents and grandparents, even though they wanted to stay in the engineering field. Prior to Sum Bar, Neoh worked for an engineering sales and marketing corporation.
Neoh is a first generation American. Her father grew up in Malaysia (Chinese Malaysia), so she has a strong connection to her Southeast Asian roots as well.
Neoh and her business partner committed to the idea of opening an evening dim sum and cocktail bar.
From there Sum Bar was born.
“Dim sum in America is great because it’s authentic in its dishes and it’s a nice shared experience,” Neo said. “That’s what drew me to dim sum as the core of Sum Bar: the communal aspect, the authenticity and the comforting dishes. My original goal was to present Chinese cuisine from my Asian-American perspective, as opposed to what people might assume Chinese cuisine is (takeout, red and gold, fried, sweet and sour chicken). There is no harm or shame in Chinese takeout restaurants. However, it is important for Americans to recognize the difference between American Chinese food and Chinese food. At Sum Bar, we have the privilege of serving dishes that we would like to serve and how we would like to serve them.”
After researching people and dozens of pop-ups, Neoh said they found the physical location at 307 E. Washington St. in downtown Greenville, and she quit her full-time job to focus on Sum Bar.
“It was a nice enough job, but it took away my real passion for working and interacting with people,” Neo said. “The restaurant industry allows me to stay close to the community in an intimate way. What’s more intimate than food and storytelling? Thank you, Greenville, for giving me this opportunity. Greenville as a city is a beautiful growing landscape full of energy. It felt like the right place and the right time for dim sum in Greenville. We weren’t looking for a specific area, but we knew we’d know it when we saw it.”
Although Sum Bar has been open for less than a year, it has gained a lot of traction and buzz, as well as positive feedback from the community, she said.
“Seeing the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and the common outdoor area was great,” Neo said. “The landlord, David Stone of Stone Family Properties, had/has such a vision for the property and the growth of the city of Greenville. We knew it was the perfect solution. We love downtown for the walkability and vibrancy that comes with events and people. Here we are two years later with a fully stocked bar and ready for the busy holiday season.”
Over the past nine months, Neoh said they’ve made big improvements and are proud of where they are today.
“We have a fantastic team looking after guests, new and returning. Our food menu may seem small, but there are constantly rotating items and specials that we are excited to share,” said Neoh. “Maintaining the menu allows us to perform to the best of our ability. Given that all our dishes are homemade and all dumplings are hand-wrapped, we pride ourselves on serving the highest quality dim sum to our customers.”
The advice Neoh has for aspiring restaurateurs is to lead with vulnerability, to be open and honest about your strengths and weaknesses with your partners, team members and colleagues.
“The more support you can get the better because it’s a tough and demanding industry,” she said. “The thought of being on an island during the startup period should encourage you to lead with authenticity, not ego. I attribute all my success to the generosity and talent of everyone around me. There is not a single part of the restaurant that I built entirely myself. My team members in particular know where I’m missing and I believe they can fill in the cracks.”
When asked if there are any plans to open additional locations right now, Neoh said that for now, they are putting all their efforts into growing, expanding their menu and continuing to create exceptional dining experiences.
“Our main goal is to provide the best possible dining experience,” she said. “We encourage our guests to experiment and try something new. If it’s not their cup of tea, we’re happy to navigate and make sure they find something they like. This goes for food and cocktails. The idea is to explore and connect. Thank you for giving us the chance to do it.”
For more information on Sum Bar’s menu and reservations, visit their website.
Contact Krys at 864-640-4418.