Kelly Clarkson’s song “Stronger (what doesn’t kill you)” sounds like a vague prophecy written on a small note inside a Chinese fortune cookie about how to find strength during difficult times. Something we can all relate to these days as we dig deep to find the bright side of the pandemic.
With the dark comes light, opportunities, and good fortune for some. Catherine Seto Gerlach and her daughter Niki have proven that a positive attitude and lots of hard work opens doors to good fortune.
Catherine was furloughed in April 2020. This unexpected life shift left Catherine up in the air about her next chapter in her life. Catherine and her daughter Niki agreed that they would use the pandemic as a catalyst to pounce on a new business adventure. This business idea was something that the mother duo have discussed for many years. It just was never the right time.
Most people would consider this to be a crazy plan based on the volatile time. Still, luckily both Catherine and Niki trusted their gut (literally!) and each other as they got to work and hand fold thousands of wontons and delivered them weekly directly to customers in the greater Seattle community.
Yes, I said thousands! The demand for these little gems was almost instantaneous. It didn’t take long to get the word out. You see, my Gal Pal Catherine knows how to chat it up! If you know Catherine you are laughing right now because you know she is well connected and loves to talk.
Seto-licious- The Dynamic Mother Daughter Duo
Catherine admits that her daughter’s tenacity and drive convinced her to go for it. “It” being Seto-licious, a company founded on the Seto (Catherine’s maiden name) families secret recipe for Mandarin-style wontons. The traditional preparation of wontons and its history have always connected the Seto family to their culture.
When you see Catherine and Niki together it’s easily recognizable that Niki is cut from the same cloth as Catherine because their work is seamless.
They both have sales experience, yet they bring different skill sets to the table. Catherine smiles as she admits that her daughter Niki is the CEO and the boss. Catherine shared with me that “it sounds cliche, but Niki is the ying to my yang. Wherever I lack, she fills in the gaps. It just works! “
This is not the first time that Catherine and her daughter Niki have worked together. The two were both employed at the nonprofit “WE”, so they knew that working as a team felt natural.
The duo credits the timing of the pandemic for the immediate organic growth of the business. People want to support local businesses, and families love the comfort of homemade wonton soup.
Beecher’s Foundation (Catherine’s prior employer) invited the mother daughter team to use the Beecher’s Foundation commercial kitchen, where they spend endless hours carefully folding, prepping, and freezing and packaging thousands of wontons for delivery. It’s been hard to keep up with the orders as they sell out every single week. A good problem to have.
The Wonton Folding Process
The process includes using a unique wonton skin from a specialty purveyor in the International District, Rose Brand,(Tsue Chong) where they are made fresh every morning. Then Catherine and Niki fill the wontons with pork and chives using family-honed techniques with fresh ingredients. Each serving per person is typically 12 wontons to make for a full meal. Catherine describes eating the wontons as eating pasta… it’s a full meal.
They serve the wontons with a Seto-licious slightly spicy homemade secret sauce and some light chicken broth and always provide a hefty dose of white pepper as the final topping.
The Chinese Family Secret Recipe For Seto-licious
Seto-Licious wontons was bequeathed to them from Catherine’s mother, and the recipe goes back generations. Catherine’s parents both moved to Seattle from China when they were young adults.
Catherine’s family of six were raised with authentic Chinese food, frequently with five or six courses. This family-style cooking sparked a genuine love and appreciation for gourmet Chinese food, especially after the siblings started their own families. The craving for the legendary Chinese dishes was passed down to the next generation.
The Seto family members (grandchildren included) would often return to Mom Seto’s kitchen for Chinese cooking lessons. One of the family favorites was the delightful homemade hand-folded wontons. This recipe is now at the center of Seto-licious
“Wonton” Means Swallowing Clouds
Translated from Cantonese, ‘wonton’ comes from “wahn tan” literally meaning “swallowing clouds” because of how they look when floating in the soup. This soup is comforting, and during the pandemic, we all crave anything soothing. Right?
Catherine and Niki have taken their ideas, struggles, challenges, dreams, and experiences and placed them in a box labeled “xiè xie” thank you in Chinese. The gift of building a new family business during a worldwide pandemic that brings comfort to many in times of uncertainty. It’s a good fortune for sure!
Seto-Licious has big plans to expand including developing a retail packaged product that anyone can buy at the store.