All restaurants seem to have a story. In our case, the idea for Yunnan by Potomac took shape gradually. Our owner and general manager Zongmin Li had enjoyed Yunnan food from childhood in Yunnan and had introduced it to her husband and business partner John Bruce. It was however unavailable in restaurants where we lived and, like many Yunnanese abroad, Zongmin longed for it. On our visits to family in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, she would sometimes disappear at odd hours. Concerned at first, John relaxed once he learned that she could always be found in a nearby noodle shop, crouched over a streaming bowl of spicy mixian.
Zongmin had always talked about the need for a Yunnan noodle house near us, but things only got serious when we lived in Beijing in 2013-2016 while she managed Ford Foundation’s research program on natural resources management in western China. Eating out in Beijing, we found that Yunnan eateries were popping up in the capital. Zongmin’s work visits to Yunnan gave us an opportunity to explore local dishes more systematically.
A year after our return to Alexandria, we had made the decision to open a restaurant specializing in mixian noodles. The first on the east coast had just opened in Manhattan and was doing very well. When we found that none existed in the Greater Washington Area, we knew we had to seize the day. In Alexandria, we could offer our food to a community that dined out often and had cosmopolitan tastes.
In April 2018 we flew to Yunnan for three weeks, not just tasting mixian dishes but slipping into restaurant kitchens for discussion and observation of ingredients and food preparation processes with local chefs. We returned home to learn, to our delight, that the owner of Broscato’s Deli was retiring. It was providential and we grabbed the space. We began renovations in October 2018 and our Grand Opening was on February 2.
We have since received very helpful comments from many of our guests and a wonderful review by Tim Carman in the April 9, 2019, Washington Post. We are excited about changes that are coming. We are expecting our wine and beer license very shortly. Our menu remains brief, but before June we will be adding new mixian bowls and small plate dishes–stay tuned!