Portable comfort – richmondmagazine.com

Launched at 2820 W. Cary St. last summer, Chum Chum Onigiri is the fourth venture of entrepreneur Hang Pham, who also owns Perception Organic Spa, Sen Organic Small Plate and its namesake Farmer’s Market. Known for its specialty drinks, including milk tea and boba, as well as snacks like onigiri, musubi and chicken balls, the store is operated by a small, female-led team, including manager Cassandra Gossen and team leader Ikai Haynh.

Richmond Magazine: How would you describe Chum Chum to a first-time visitor?

Cassandra Gossen: We are a boba tea and snack friendly place and offer onigiri, which are Japanese filled rice balls; bubble tea; organic options – and we’re eco-friendly. Our utensils, straws and cups are all biodegradable.

RM: What can you share about the owner of Chum Chum, Hang Pham?

Gossen: Mrs. Hang is absolutely amazing. She always treats everyone with respect. She knows how to lead and is very passionate about what she does.

RM: Tell me about some of your favorite snacks on the menu.

Gossen: The salted duck egg bao is my favorite. It’s a bun with pork, sausages, mushrooms and a duck egg.

Ikai Haynh: I think the chicken skewers, served with seasoned rice and kimchi, are underrated. Also the takoyaki. It’s a deep-fried octopus ball, and we top it with our signature Chum Chum sauce, bonito flakes and a choice of Kewpie mayonnaise – spicy or regular – and it’s really delicious.

RM: What is Chum Chum sauce??

Haynh: We sell it at the market. This is an organic, gluten-free soy sauce based sauce that we serve on many of our items, such as Chicken Katsu and Salmon in Garlic Butter. Ms. Hang likes to have lots of vegan options as well as anything organic.

RM: The store has a really unique and memorable design influenced by kawaii, the Japanese aesthetic of cuteness. Where does this vision come from?

Gossen: Ms. Hang just has a vision for her business. She wanted it to be very open, very friendly, so it’s really just her and her passion for her businesses. It’s very kawaii.

RM: What can you tell me about the people you meet here? Who are your clients ?

Gossen: Every time there’s an anime convention or cosplay, we’ll have a bunch of cosplayers, and that’s just the coolest thing because they’re so excited and they’re like, ‘Oh, you got onigiri, I see that in the anime.” We all have different types of customers – old people, young people, people who have lived in Japan and say, “I looked everywhere. I lived off of onigiri when I was in Japan,” and we get our regulars.

Haynh: We have a lot of people working in Carytown. They’ll be rushing here during their breaks to get their onigiri fix. We all love and support each other.

RM: I would like to know what you think makes Chum Chum Onigiri special.

Haynh: Being Asian myself and from northern Virginia, Chum Chum Onigiri is one of the few places I’ve been that sells vegan boba drinks, vegan milk teas, which is very unique. All of our ingredients, everything we use are all organic.

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