In the refrigerated section of Fort Worth food market The Table sits a powerful testament to friendship. Sure, on the outside it might seem like just a package of dumplings filled with kimchi, potato curry, or pork. But every mound of dough was lovingly pinched by pals Hao Tran and Dixya Bhattarai, who work under the moniker Hao & Dixya and co-own The Table.
In addition to crafting prepared foods, Tran and Bhattarai teach cooking classes, host pop-up events, and offer catering inspired by global flavors and traditions, including their own. Tran is a native of Vietnam, and Bhattarai hails from Nepal. Dumplings are common in both countries, although the ingredients and preparations differ. Given their expertise, dumpling-making classes have proved to be some of their most popular offerings.
When the duo met about three years ago, neither of them had experience in professional kitchens. What they did have were wonderful memories of cooking with and learning from their elders.
“In Vietnam, my grandmother kept a wood stove going all day to make our meals and heat our water,” Tran says. She moved to Arlington with her family at age 6 and spent summers in Montreal, Canada, in her aunt’s restaurant. “My aunt’s French-Vietnamese cuisine was simple but flavorful,” Tran recalls. “These women really define how and what I cook.”
Bhattarai’s recollections of family meals in Kathmandu also stayed with her, but her interest in cooking didn’t develop until after college, during a dietetic internship. “In learning about health and nutrition, I was introduced to new ingredients, techniques, and recipes, which I really enjoyed,” she says.
As their respective careers evolved—Tran teaches high school chemistry and physics and coaches high school swimming, and Bhattarai is a dietician—they both spent free time producing elaborate meals for informal gatherings. A mutual friend who noted their common passion connected them. Their ambitions turned into a business. In 2018, they started producing pop-up dinners under the name Hao & Dixya.
“We knew it would be a good partnership if we channeled our energies together,” Bhattarai says. “The pop-up format made perfect sense, giving us flexibility and freedom to be more creative with our menus.”
Soon their dinners were selling out, and they added cooking classes, held in professional kitchens, to teach people how to make dumplings, vegetarian sushi, fermented vegetables, and Vietnamese and Indian dishes. They were approached by friends Dena and Trent Shaskan about starting a brick-and-mortar shop to sell their prepared foods. Dena is a longtime restaurant and catering chef in Fort Worth, and her husband, Trent, is a prolific baker with a devoted farmers market following.
“Dena and I talked to other people, but nobody was as ready for risk-taking and creative development as Hao and Dixya are,” Trent says. “They make things happen, and they’re edgy-smart.”
Together, the foursome opened The Table in September 2019.
Their partnership created a sense of community, Tran says. Purveyors, including the owners, share their knowledge and experiences with everyone who comes into the store. “Teaching people what is possible with a few ingredients and showcasing our ethnic influences evolves into conversations around the table and relationships built from there,” Tran says.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic quashed in-person events, Hao & Dixya held classes at The Table as well as a cookbook club, in which participants brought a dish prepared from a designated cookbook. These events often serve as fundraisers for local charities such as the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival. Over the past year, the duo kept business up by transitioning to to-go dinners and virtual classes with ingredients available curbside. Luckily, their fan base stuck with them as more people cooked at home.
“Nobody was as ready for risk-taking and creative development as Hao and Dixya are. They make things happen, and they’re edgy-smart.
“There’s a good community sense to their virtual classes with a lot of bonding experiences and practical kitchen learning, too,” says Zameika Williams, a high school culinary arts teacher who’s worked at Hao & Dixya pop-up events. She and fellow members of a Fort Worth women’s organization recently participated in an online dumpling-making class. “We picked up groceries in advance from The Table, got our prep work readied, and then worked together as Hao and Dixya walked us through the process. Having them interact with us and see what we were doing was great—they provide good encouragement.”
Hao & Dixya look forward to eventually opening a larger culinary studio with a big commercial kitchen, a café, and a community garden where they can grow ingredients alongside their clients.“
In retrospect, 2020—and COVID-19’s impact—gave us time to pause and reflect on many personal and business-related goals, and we are developing those ideas that we have held so passionately,” Tran says. “We definitely missed the in-person connections and conversations, but The Table is here to stay.”