A bao movement has begun in Auburn, Alabama. Hungry students line the street daily, patiently waiting for Dumps Like A Truck’s newest authentic Chinese bao creation.
For those wondering what bao is, Whitley Dykes and his wife Kunyu Li are here to tell you all about it. These two are the sole owners of the food truck and recent storefront that focuses on making the fluffy, traditional Chinese steamed buns.
Dykes runs the business side of things and is more or less the face of the restaurant, always there to greet each new guest with a wide smile and welcome back regulars like family.
Li is the mastermind behind everything that comes out of the kitchen, from their signature bao to pork belly buns to the rare but well-loved bacon-egg-and-cheese fried dumplings.
“She’ll make every single bao by hand from scratch,” Dykes said.
Li grew up in China in a traditional Chinese home where making dumplings was more than just food; it was a cultural experience and part of the family history.
Dykes had an extremely different upbringing from Li as he spent the majority of his formative years in Auburn, Alabama. He attended Southern Union Community College for two years before dropping out and moving across the country.
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“I kind of went wild for a couple of years, but I always had this tug on my heart from God saying you’ve got to come home,” Dykes said.
In 2006, Dykes came back to Alabama and finished his college career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he majored in international studies and minored in Chinese.
“It was during this time that I had an encounter with God and his love that kind of changed everything for me,” Dykes said.
He studied abroad in China that next semester, and it was there that he felt called to full-time ministry.
He returned to China after graduation to do missionary work for about seven years and met his wife during that time. Li was actually one of Dykes’ students before they started dating, and she helped him lead Bible studies at the university.
After Dykes left the organization he had been working for, he and Li began dating, and it wasn’t long before he knew she was the one.
“She had so encompassed the heart of God," Dykes said. "I carried so much shame and guilt about who I used to be and what I’d done, and she’s like, 'You are clean. You are a new creation, and I forgive you.'"
They dated for around two months before getting married, and the couple has been together for almost nine years now.
They lived in China for the first six years of their marriage and returned to Auburn in 2016. Once back in the U.S., Dykes got a job at Auburn Global as an international student advisor where he worked with primarily Chinese students.
Dykes saw himself when he looked at the international students as they were far from home in a country that was new and strange to them, something he had experienced while living abroad.
“I would go to Starbucks while I was in China because it would remind me of home, but I felt like these students didn’t have anything for that, and we felt limited in our job,” Dykes said.
It was from this that they dreamt up the food truck, which had been an idea in the back of their minds from years before but now would have a reason and a purpose to exist.
“I hash-tagged a picture in 2014 of dumplings, and I was just being stupid and put ‘#dumpslikeatruck’ on Instagram, and then I was like, 'Wouldn’t that be a cool name for a food truck one day,'” Dykes said.
Dykes and Li started talking about staying in Auburn permanently and creating something to give Chinese students a taste of home while also introducing Americans to a unique type of food they may have never had before.
They wanted a business that would have a solid theme, didn’t have a lot of overhead, wouldn’t fall victim to seasons and was able to be combined with their passion for making an impact on both the local and global scale.
The answer was a food truck, and ‘Dumps Like A Truck’ was born. The name of the business comes from a rap song called the “Thong Song” by Sisqo, but of course Dykes put his own redemptive spin on the title.
“We wanted to work with kids who lived and scavenged for survival in literal third-world dumps, and the original idea was to put thong sandals on their feet,” Dykes said.
However, the idea transformed as Dykes and Li realized that giving shoes was just a bandage on a major wound, and they wanted to do more to be able to impact people and see lives change.
They began partnering with an organization called Empowering Young Warriors Asia, which is a discipleship and mentor program that teaches kids life skills, their identity in God and that they have the ability to have an impact wherever they are, no matter their circumstances.
Usually these kids aren’t able to receive an education because they have to help support their families by working in brick or coal factories or scavenging throughout dumps for food. Young Warriors Asia provides funds for kids to get an education, so they are able to pursue a career once they graduate and pour back into their communities.
Dumps Like A Truck, the actual food truck, is focused on overseas donations, giving a portion of its profits and all cash tips.
“Last year, we were able to send at least $5,000 in cash tips over to sponsor the kids,” Dykes said.
A portion of the storefront’s earnings also goes overseas at the end of the year, but the cash tips jar there is donated to local charities and causes.
“Whenever we started to open the restaurant, we saw that as a physical location that could be a place of impact for the local community,” Dykes said.
One way they directly benefit the people of the community is through a recent promotion where every Wednesday all single mothers, pregnant students and women facing pregnancy alone eat for free.
Dykes and Li don’t want to just do philanthropy for philanthropy’s sake, and they want the community to be involved and get to see the changes being made.
On any given day, people from all over the surrounding areas can be seen in lines that can stretch over 100 feet out of the store.
Dumps Like a Truck is a bao restaurant first and foremost, but what makes it such a different experience is not the food but the genuine love Dykes and his wife have for people.
“We’re a business that serves food, but then we have a cause on the other end of it," Dykes said. "But my heart for people and my heart for God will always come out in how I try to interact with every person who comes through the door."
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