As Baltimore got its first taste of warm weather in mid-March, New Generation Hot Pot opened its doors in Towson. From the moment you step inside, it’s clear that Ming Zhang, the owner-manager, is living a kind of American dream.
The contemporary interior design, fit with mini cacti hanging from the ceiling, contrasts the traditional Chinese paintings and ornaments that pop beneath the industrial lighting. Colorful bowls of vegetables, noodles and other goodies zip down the center of the restaurant on a polished, white conveyor belt. Tucked into the corner is the classic convenience store ice cream freezer and a small but ever-important build-your-own sauce bar. Of the two TVs, one plays SportsCenter and the other shows the food adventures of YouTube star Mike Chen.
You can tell this place is run by Chinese-Americans.
Born in Fuzhou, China, Ming spent his childhood in New York City’s iconic Manhattan Chinatown and is now setting up shop in Towson, Maryland. He’s no stranger to the restaurant business; in fact, it’s in his blood. After moving to Florida as a teenager, he got experience working at a restaurant run by his family. They own buffets and take-out joints from Texas to the Sunshine State. Hot pot must be the natural next step.
He admits that New Generation was a family idea.
“I loved hot pot as an immigrant but it’s hard to find in the United States,” he said. “It’s tradition as a Chinese-American. We had it every American holiday and I wanted to fill that need of bringing families together.”
Hot pot is about sitting together with close friends and family, sharing food as it cooks in a simmering vat of delicious soup stock, basking in the warm air. Spreading this unmatchable comfort is New Generation’s noble cause, and it has all the tools to succeed. A Taiwanese American patron endorses the food as “really good, definitely authentic.” He also echoes Ming’s sentiment, remembering how “Thanksgiving was always hot pot.”
Ming has a laundry list as to why Towson is the ideal location for this mission: “Of course, the university is of key importance. There’s a lack of traditional Chinese restaurants in the area and it’s a great intersection of diversity.” He has a clear plan of action. Bring in the locals. Introduce people to hot pot. And establish a diverse customer base.
But to give a little nudge, New Generation offered half off the all-you-can-eat menu in its first week.
It may have worked a little too well. On the last day of the deal, there was a line out the door before dinner service started. In minutes, all the tables were accounted for. All waitress Liah could say is that, “It’s been like this every day and it’s only Thursday,” before she zips back to the kitchen to serve another table.
To both veterans who are craving hot pot and first-timers who balk at the idea of having to cook their own food, Ming asks they keep an open mind. “Come in, have a try, don’t be afraid to ask questions.” He even gives his recommendations.
“My preferred sauce — hoisin sauce, sesame oil, hint of chili oil, parsley, jalapenos and a tap of sugar,” he details with precision. “Favorite meat here, probably the sliced fatty beef.” And he promises another favorite, sliced ribeye, will make it on the menu soon.
There is a lack of frills compared to hot pot restaurants in Ellicott City or Rockville. There’s no tablet to order your next plate of meat. No huge dining space with private rooms to boot. But at its core, New Generation Hot Pot is a family business, a manifestation of the American dream, serving good, honest food and hoping you’ll give them a chance.