YunBanBao: A Chinese Food Delivery Service Bringing Authentic Eats to Hudson County

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Many people who work near Exchange Place have seen this — almost every weekday, a minivan appears at a street corner around lunch hour. A line of people approach the minivan, and the driver starts handing them boxes of hot meals.

“I work in an office building in Jersey City. Pre-Coronavirus, I knew of some Chinese coworkers who would gather orders and get delivery from Flushing for lunch,” a Reddit user commented under a post in May, referring to a meal delivery service called YunBanBao {shortened to YBB and translated as “Bulletin in the Cloud”}.

“I’m just amazed they had food delivered to Jersey from Flushing,” another Redditor chimed in. Indeed, YBB, which bulk delivers meals from Flushing and Central New Jersey restaurants to Manhattan and Jersey City, has long been a well-kept secret among Chinese expats in this area. Of course, as YBB’s services expand, local non-Chinese foodies can also easily enjoy authentic Chinese food delivered from far-flung neighborhoods. Read on to find out how.

How YBB Came to Be

yunbanbao chinese delivery

{Photo credit: Yunbanbao}

YBB started as a bulk meal delivery service about five years ago. According to an Eater NY story published in 2019, Paul Lang, YBB’s founder, like many Chinese ex-pats living in New Jersey and commuting to New York City for work, was making do with the not-so-traditional food options around where they live and work. Weekday lunches were often sandwiches or salads, sold at one of the {countless, largely indistinguishable} fast-casual eateries near midtown or the Financial District. Good Chinese restaurants do exist in Manhattan and Jersey City, but the “good stuff” in those places are usually expensive entrees big enough to feed a whole family.

Quality home-style cooking of reasonable portions {and prices} were hard to find, partly due to high local commercial rents. But the cravings for authentic and wallet-friendly Chinese food is still strong — on weekends, many who crave it would drive for hours through agonizing traffic to far-flung neighborhoods near Flushing or in deep New Jersey to hunt for good food.

Deciding that the demand for authentic Chinese food was strong enough, Lang started YBB as a long-haul delivery service that connects eaters with good, inexpensive Chinese restaurants that are not easily accessible in their daily routines. The operation model was simple and has remained largely the same.

Partnering vendors, many of which are small-to-medium-sized restaurants based in Flushing and central New Jersey post menus and take customer orders through a group Chat on WeChat, a messaging app popular among Chinese ex-pats. Then, at designated time slots, meals are bulk delivered to various delivery spots in Manhattan and New Jersey to be picked up by customers. Some typical and popular restaurants include Morals Village, a hot pot restaurant that started in the inland Chinese city of Chongqing and now has a branch in Somerset NJ, M&T Restaurant, a small chain featuring northern Chinese food with multiple locations; and Dengji, a popular rice noodle shop.

Read More: 20+ New Hoboken + Jersey City Restaurants to Try This Fall

The business model is viable through bulk ordering — a delivery takes place only if over 50fifty meals are placed at a fixed pick-up location before a cut-off time {usually the night before}, making it easier for restaurants to arrange meal preparation efficiently and deliver them all at once. In this way, small restaurants are able to reach an audience outside their delivery radius at a reasonable time and monetary costs. YBB charges a commission that is lower than other delivery platforms {about ten% percent as of 2019}, thanks to a social-media-based operation mode that kept overhead costs low.

How it Works

For the first 2-3 years, YBB operated mostly through Wechat. Although the company has since rolled out an app called YBB plus as well as a website to streamline the process and make ordering easier for English speakers, the Wechat model is still operating in parallel to this day.

For those who can read basic Chinese or have a friend willing to translate, this is how it worked and still works {with website instructions to follow}.

Throughout the week, partnering restaurants with YBB would post their delivery plans — such as what dishes are available at what time at which location — in group chats {FYI: users can be let into the groups by their friends}.

Now orders can also be placed on the website as well. Interested customers can place orders through group messages before the cut-off time, usually the night before the delivery. Around mealtimes, a minivan would pull up at an agreed-upon location, where hungry eaters lineup to pick up their hand-made soup dumplings or baked-to-crispy clay pot rice and sausage. Payments are usually made in cash or via Venmo {now most vendors also accept credit card}.

The Food

yunbanbao chinese delivery

{Photo credit: Yunbanbao}

As the Chinese restaurant scene in the tristate area evolved over the past few years, the product selections on YBB also went through slightly different iterations. Although in its earlier years, the majority of the business was to deliver Chinese comfort food from Flushing, Queens to the Manhattan and Jersey City lunch crowds. Now, in the past two years, as more regional Chinese food restaurants opened in Manhattan and North New Jersey, the portfolio of restaurants, variety of dishes, as well as delivery coverage has expanded tremendously.

Now, those based in Hoboken and Jersey City can pick up authentic food delivered from Flushing, Manhattan, and central New Jersey at multiple local locations and times throughout the week via YBB. Certain restaurants also provide door to door delivery {availability is shown under the “Delivery” section on the website}. The food choices are not only limited to casual, home-style dishes, either. Now the options range from snacks such as bubble tea and night-market-style finger food to more festive fares such as spicy crawfishes, a summer specialty.

See More: The Coolest Outdoor Dining Setups in Hoboken + Jersey City Right Now

“We have been using the service throughout the pandemic,” a Jersey City resident told Hoboken Girl. “It functions pretty much the same as before. They have also started delivering groceries in spring.” Local Chinese expats love buying exotic Asian fruits, such as creamy Thai mangos and fresh Chinese yangmei, a tart, herby berry only available in early summer.

“The menu offerings are pretty impressive. I like browsing their website and debating whether I want coconut chicken on Tuesday or mini hot pot on Wednesday, for example, ” a Chinese American finance worker who lives in Hoboken and works in Midtown Manhattan {before the coronavirus lockdown} told Hoboken Girl. He was originally introduced to the service by his Chinese coworkers. “YBB offers casual, good food. The portions are reasonable and the prices are ‘very affordable,” he said. “But it’s not without problems. Sometimes in winter, the food would arrive lukewarm. And very occasionally the restaurant cancels delivery plans if the group orders are too small. But if that happens, oh well!”

Navigating YBB

yunbanbao chinese delivery

The website and app are prone to technical glitches, as the team at Hoboken Girl found out. And the restaurant info and dish descriptions are not always in English. Many it is recommended that those with very limited Chinese skills should browse the menus on the website or app, and confirm orders in a local Wechat group. Here are some tricks to navigate the website:

Click into the “Lunch” button on the front page of the website {even if you are placing an order for dinner}.

On top of the next page, select a pick-up neighborhood and choose a time on the calendar {Hoboken Girl has found that the menu options are far more varied if a user chooses a Jersey City zip code. So Hoboken residents can play around different zip codes if willing to make the way to Jersey City.}

Enter a restaurant’s page {if English description is not complete, food pictures can help you choose a restaurant}, on top of which multiple pick-up locations and time slots are listed. Fill in the needed information and start ordering.

When ordering groceries, the grocery option is listed along with restaurants on the available dates. {Non-Chinese speaking users can use the restaurant photo, which is usually a grocery item} A user simply needs to click into the page and start ordering.

If not enough English descriptions are not available on the “Order” tab in a restaurant’s page, more information and photos can be found on the “Detail” tab next to it. One can choose to order from the website. Or if you already know someone in one of the local Wechat group chats, orders can be placed there, too.

Do you plan on ordering from Yanbanbao? Let us know in the comments!

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.