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New Nittany Mall eatery looks to fill a void in Centre County culinary scene

The vegetable dish from Chinese Hot Pot (Gudong), which is now open for delivery.
The vegetable dish from Chinese Hot Pot (Gudong), which is now open for delivery.

A new eatery is now open at Nittany Mall, and it’s the result of three Penn State students noticing a void in the State College culinary scene.

Chinese Hot Pot (Gudong) features cuisine that’s familiar to many international students.

“Chinese hot pot is a really popular food in China. A lot of Chinese students love Chinese hot pot,” co-owner Zigi Wu said. “I opened this company with my two friends. All three of us were students here at first. We thought, there is no Chinese hot pot here, but people love it.”

Wu’s two business partners, Lingfei Li and Xintong Chen, previously graduated with degrees in hospitality management, while Wu graduates later this month with her degree in labor employment relations. From the beginning, the three were not interested in opening a traditional restaurant, due to the financial demands. Instead, they aimed at creating a delivery-only business, because, as Wu points out, “all we need is a preparation kitchen and our license.”

However, when they found the readily available space at Nittany Mall, (the former Auntie Anne’s,) they jumped at the chance to open in a location that already met the necessary food service requirements. Now, patrons can come into the mall to pick up their orders as well. But while it is possible to stick around and eat at one of the nearby tables, Wu said that’s often not the case for many customers.

While the restaurant has had no difficulty appealing to international students, Wu says the biggest challenge with the business so far has been breaking into the American market.

“A lot of Americans, they don’t know (what) hot pot (is) and it’s difficult to extend to them how (it) works and how you eat hot pot,” she said.

Education is part of the trio’s business plan, though, and they’re currently making a video to share on social media, with information on how to enjoy this Chinese comfort food.

For those who are maybe unfamiliar with the concept, a Chinese hot pot meal consists of a pot and heat source, cooking liquid and the ingredients of your choice. In many cases, the pot is a shallow, stainless steel cooking vessel with a partition, so you can cook two items at once, and the heat source is a portable table-top burner. You pour in your water or broth to boil and then starting cooking.

Chinese Hot Pot (Gudong) makes this hands-on culinary experience even easier for you by supplying the pot when you order your first combo. Then, you have it on hand for each subsequent time you order.

As far as the ingredients you have to choose from on the Chinese Hot Pot (Gudong) menu, there are a variety of vegetables, tofu and proteins. Lamb was recently added to the menu, a traditional Beijing hot pot favorite.

Wu encourages customers to try the ingredients they may not be as familiar with, as that’s another area where she finds the locals are less likely to branch out.

For now, Chinese Hot Pot (Gudong) provides delivery 11 a.m.–10:45 p.m. and pick-up during Nittany Mall hours. Orders can be placed by calling the eatery at 699-0709. There are plans to list the restaurant on Grubhub in the near future.