Three years ago, Rocky P.H. So started his food cart with four types of dumplings and one salad. He slowly added rice boxes and other salads.
Eventually he expanded his dumpling offerings and guesses these days he probably has about 30 in his "arsenal."
Now, SoHo Gourmet Cuisines, the cart, is spawning SoHo Gourmet Cuisines, the restaurant.
So, also known as So Pak Ho, recently signed a lease at 2900 Cahill Main in the Hatchery Hill Towne Center in what used to be a Cousins Subs. It's in the same complex as Great Dane Fitchburg.
"My vision is Asian-fusion casual dining, probably like a Panera setup, but the food will be a little bit more gourmet than Panera," So said.
He called the space "half restaurant ready," with a lot of work necessary to turn it into his "own style."
Customers will order at a counter and staff will bring out the food when it's ready. "Everything will be pretty fast, within five minutes or so people will get their food," he said.
So is going to serve everything he does from the cart: the dumplings, the salads, the rice boxes. The regular menu will include five or six types of dumplings, and, just like with the food cart, he will add in seasonal specials.
"I named it Gourmet Cuisines for a reason. I can go in any direction I want," he said.
So will still run SoHo's food cart, too. "The food cart is my best marketing tool," he said.
The cart has been in different locations, and in the fall will be stationed on Library Mall. This summer, it's been at Research Park on the West Side and American Family Insurance on the Far East Side. He's a regular at the concert series Live on King Street, and this will be his third year doing Taste of Madison.
"We're a food cart. We're on wheels. So we kind of go everywhere," So said.
So said it's tricky to say when the restaurant will open. "Everybody wants to have a target date, but there's always going to be some delays," he said, adding that so far he's faced no setbacks.
He's hoping for after the Taste of Madison, Labor Day weekend. "When that whole crazy ordeal is over with, I can kind of focus more on what I need to get done at the restaurant," he said.
So, 29, was born in Hong Kong, but moved to the Madison area when he was 8, and graduated from Middleton High School. He went to the University of Minnesota and said his next step is to open a SoHo Gourmet Cuisines in that state, where he said he has a big network of friends and acquaintances.
He said he always wants to have steady options like the popular mac and cheese dumplings and buffalo chicken dumplings, rice boxes and salads.
Customers will have to call SoHo or follow it on Facebook to see what special is coming up, So said.
He plans to open for a weekend brunch, where he'll make congee, a traditional Cantonese-style rice-based soup. He's offered congee in the cart in the fall and winter and people have loved it, So said.