Queen of Dumplings: Vicky Ha’s recipe for success

Vicky Ha, House of Dumplings owner

In 2012, House of Dumplings owner Vicky Ha spent 17 hours making her first batch of dumplings for the Wellington City Market, which sold out in just two hours. Today, her company sells a delicious range of award-winning, handcrafted dumplings and sauces in 150 supermarkets across the country.

With such rich experience in the industry, starting from scratch and building her own business at 28 years old, Vicky’s drive and determination was crucial to her success.

“I think I’m personally a very driven person, but it’s also the determination of not giving up, a stubbornness, because there are so many times on a business journey that it’s just really hard, it’s tough – there’s more tough days than good days, for sure.”

People are the backbone of any business, she says, and building great team culture is essential.  “Without your team you are nothing. You’ve gotta have a team, one person can only do so much. And with food manufacturing, it’s all about people. You can buy machinery, but someone has to operate it and a machine can only do one thing.”

When choosing employees to join the House of Dumplings team, it’s a person’s character, attitude and personal values that come first – everything else can be learnt and developed. “Emotional intelligence is important. It’s about the willingness to go forward in life – if you want to grow, I’ll help you grow, personally and professionally.”

It also means weeding out those who don’t fit in with the culture. “If you’ve got an agenda or an ego, it’s toxic, we don’t have room for that at House of Dumplings. One bad egg can turn the whole business rotten. Like if you buy a bag of lemons and there is one mouldy lemon…spores can grow. It’s the culture that makes your business.”

Vicky grew up in Hong Kong and went to boarding school in Dunedin at age 16. She wanted to become a chef, but her parents insisted she attend university first. After studying at Otago, she moved to Wellington, went to chef school and gained the New Zealand Certificate in Cookery (Level 4), and started working at various eateries across the city.

Like many businesses, House of Dumplings has evolved and changed over the years, adapting to trends and creating products and new flavours based on customer demand. Originally called The Dumpling House, where Vicky served customers from her portable bike stall, she opened her production kitchen on Taranaki St a couple of years later.

She also opened a store on Manners St but decided it didn’t suit her business model. “We had to focus on what we are good at, which is making quality sh*t, and with a retail shop, you need volume, which can sometimes compromise the quality.

“For us it’s about natural, local and ethical food – that’s pretty much the three basic things that we stick with. We are different because we care about what we put in our products. It’s about values and saying no to certain things.

“When your bottom line is high it can create some limitations, but you’ve got to live with what you believe is right. If you don’t have values and morals in life, then you’ve got nothing – you’ve got to have a baseline and we haven’t failed our values since day one.”

When it comes to training and upskilling, learning on-the-job is the most valuable, Vicky says. “It’s 100% the best way to learn, it’s like life experience – without life experience you can’t grow as a person. The whole world revolves around problems, so it’s about a willingness to solve a problem – that is the absolute key thing. And once you have that skill set, you can build on it.”

Vicky is also passionate about nurturing her team and guiding them through any obstacles they may be encountering. “Every single person has problems in their lives, and if someone is having an issue, it’s really important to look into the cause of that, trying to guide them through to solve it or change their way of thinking about it, because it can affect your ability at work, whether your mind is somewhere else or not.

“So, I think it’s important to look at your staff and just say, ‘hey, if I can help you with anything,’ from a thinking perspective. It’s like…a soccer player is just a player…but with the right coach to give you the right confidence to build a strong team, you can conquer the world.”

Vicky’s practicality and hands on approach to life, business and working with people makes her an inspirational leader. Making mistakes is all a part of it, she says. “It’s just the way it is – it’s about how you pick yourself up and look at it as a learning lesson, not a downfall – and be a better human after that. The most, most, most important thing for all situations in life, is not seeing yourself as a victim. Do you see this as your destination? Or as just a hurdle in life you need to overcome?”

Her ex-boyfriend used to say working with her was like attending the University of Vicky. “We’ve all got to start from somewhere and I was once somewhere with no skills and someone helped to build me up. I want people to do well in life and I want them to leave here with a great skillset and attitude, because I lead by example. And if I can’t do the job, I wouldn’t give it to someone else.”

When it comes to inclusion, Vicky’s experience in overcoming an extensive range of obstacles while working in a generally male-dominated industry is not something she considers. “The day we start thinking about it like that, is when we have a problem – there’s no gender with business. It’s about performance and ability. You just fight till the end. If someone doesn’t respect you, you ask for respect, you prove yourself – so there’s no such thing as a victim mentality.”