SETOLICIOUS IS A mother-and-daughter team making seriously delicious wontons. The filling’s ground pork, green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil and a little egg; the gossamer thin, tender wrappers are Rose Brand, made fresh daily in Seattle’s Chinatown International District. Every single one is folded by hand by Catherine and Niki Gerlach, who also do all the door-to-door delivery. Ordered online, the wontons arrive frozen, a dozen to an order, ready to cook for a warming lunch or soothing supper. Simple, right?
Niki says they’ve tried to make the directions as clear as possible, and it’s hard to see how it could be any easier — basically, just boil water. In a Zoom interview, she’s the more reserved of the two, fielding questions about numbers from the background, while her mom effuses about the greatness of their customers. But when asked whether anything funny has happened so far, Niki jumps right in. “One of our steps says to put the wontons in the water one at a time, so they don’t stick together,” she says, as her mom starts laughing. “And one of our customers asked if she needed to get 12 different pots to put each wonton in!”
The recipe comes from Catherine’s mom, Anna Seto — “a phenomenal cook” who came to the United States from Nanjing in 1954, attended college in Omaha, then had a real estate business along with a big family in Seattle. Catherine’s father moved here from Shanghai, becoming a Boeing engineer and an entrepreneur. The wontons were a staple of Catherine’s childhood — her mother sat and made hundreds at a time, freezing some for later. Catherine and her siblings took them for granted, she says, until, “As we got older, we started to really value the dishes that she made.” Eventually, they all learned how to make them.
Three years ago, Catherine did a successful trial run of family-recipe wontons for sale. Then the idea lay dormant until COVID-19 hit. She was furloughed from her job as director of business development for The Beecher’s Foundation, the food-education nonprofit from Beecher’s cheese. “My daughter says to me … ‘We’ve got this time, and if you don’t take the opportunity, you’ll never know.’ ”
Seto is Catherine’s maiden name — hence, Setolicious. She and Niki, who continues a full-time job in tech sales, now make around 2,000 wontons a week. “Mondays and Tuesdays are our folding days,” Niki says, with “days” going from 4 p.m. until sometimes 1 in the morning. The folding soundtrack is a collaborative one: Catherine likes country, while Niki prefers hip hop and rap. “We try to mix it up — music, podcasts, TV, and then there’s a little bit of silence,” Niki says. “We’re pretty blunt people …” Catherine notes. “She’ll just literally look at me and go, ‘Catherine, no talking.’ And I want to talk!” They both laugh.
Setolicious’ two-person production line started out in Catherine’s home kitchen; nowadays, the Beecher’s Foundation is lending its commercial one, gratis. Niki does Setolicious’ social media, which has been pretty much all the promotion they’ve needed — they regularly sell out. Catherine taste-tests every batch of wontons and still brings the “rejects” home. “It’s just so easy. I grew up with these — it’s such a comfort food …” she says. “I pile on a lot of hot sauce and white pepper” — included with each Setolicious order — “because that’s the taste I love. And I never tire of it.”
Catherine’s mom is 87 now, home by herself during the pandemic after losing her husband two years ago. Niki says keeping her grandma in the loop about Setolicious has been “one of the coolest parts.” Catherine says her mom was initially skeptical, “Like, ‘Whatever, you’re going to sell wontons out of the back of your car?!’ ”
Now Setolicious means something else. “The other day, I said, ‘Mom, it’s your recipe.’ And she goes, ‘No — it’s yours.’ ”