Hello everyone, I’m Derek Tan and I’m a fourth generation Dragon Beard maker. My great grandfather was a chef in the Forbidden Palace in Beijing where he specialized in preparing Dragon Beard candy for the emperor’s court. Each generation of my family has passed the recipe and skills onto the next. We opened a candy shop in Hong Kong and when I was 10, my dad began teaching me. I loved learning from my father and helping him pull and twist the dough into delicate long white wisps until they resembled a traditional Chinese dragon’s beard. I had so much fun in our shop, but we had to leave our life together in candy making when moved to the United States.
Arriving in the Bay Area, my dad supported us working in a Chinese restaurant and I went to college at UC Davis where I majored in economics. After graduating, I went to work for a computer chip company. But my memories of Dragon Beard and working with my family kept resurfacing in my mind. I knew that people would love the delicious, beautiful candy; seeing how it’s made; and learning its history. So I left the world of computer chips, opened my shop in Chinatown, and have become a full time Dragon Beard man again, just like the generations before me.
Dragon Papa is in a cozy little storefront on San Francisco Chinatown’s historic Grant Avenue. The real star of the shop is my father. He sits in our bright front window stretching and twisting the candy dough into long silky strands, folding them over and over into little pillow shaped bundles that he fills with a mix of fresh roasted peanuts, coconuts, and sesame. Both tourists and longtime Chinatown residents stop in their tracks to watch him work. I love explaining the history of this nearly lost art to visitors. And longtime residents are happy to find their favorite childhood treat. Many Chinatown seniors have told me Dragon Papa brings back long ago childhood memories for them.
We feel we represent an important culinary art form and take great care with the quality of our candy. We use only natural ingredients and make our candy fresh everyday – no preservatives whatsoever. Early every morning, we fresh roast our peanuts and coconuts. Besides Dragon Beard we also sell ginger candy and mochi. I’m also proud that our neighbor business owners say we’ve helped increase foot traffic to our little section of the neighborhood.
We’ve been invited to demonstrate the art of making Dragon Beard candy at many cultural and food festivals around Northern California. It’s a great opportunity to promote our candy and expand our market. Currently, I don’t have a way to take my business to these fairs. A loan will help me purchase a used cargo van or SUV to carry my equipment. In addition, a Kiva loan will help me hire help for my shop. I will teach them the art of making Dragon Beard candy to increase production and pass a long the art of producing this ancient treat.