Their first check: $3.57.
“I was like, ‘Yes, we made it!'” Randy says with a laugh. “I was just really excited to see that, because it was such a promising signal, that we’re onto something here.”
A thoughtfully curated mix of traditional Cantonese home cooking and familiar restaurant dishes, the channel has turned into something far bigger — and more meaningful — than anything the Laus ever expected.
Made with love
With more than 50 years of experience cooking professionally in China and the United States, Chung Sun Lau, known as “Daddy Lau,” had plenty of culinary experience — and since retiring, free time as well.
Randy had always dreamed of documenting his father’s recipes. Stuck at home in the San Francisco Bay Area in the spring of 2020, he realized the time was right, especially with his first child on the way.
“I just wanted to spend time with my dad, connect with my culture, and just be able to pass something down,” Randy tells CNN.
The chef was quick to get on board.
“A lot of people love to cook, but they don’t know how, especially Chinese food. So I want to show them all my knowledge, my skill,” Daddy Lau explains, via his wife, Jenny Lau, translating. “I want to make this video to pass to the next generation.”
Centering the project on food made total sense for another reason; it was a bridge in the Lau household.
“I’ve always had a language barrier with my dad,” says Randy, who can hold basic conversations in Cantonese but does not consider himself fluent. “I never really doubted that he loved me because he’d always make this delicious food for me. So that kind of transcended language — food was our love language.”
Inclusion and accessibility were priorities for Randy. He refused to dub over his father to preserve his speech and personality, opting instead to subtitle their entire videos in English and Chinese, mainly so Daddy Lau could follow along, too.
“It takes a lot of time, like 10 to 20 hours, probably, of subtitle work. But I think it’s really important because I don’t want anyone to be left out,” Randy says.
Relying on his background in digital marketing, he spent the next six months in development and production to get the channel up and running. When it finally came time to shoot, Daddy Lau turned out to be a natural on camera, nailing recipes in only one take.
“The whole thing wouldn’t have worked otherwise,” Randy admits. “He has a lot of self-confidence … he really knows his stuff.”
Recipe for success
Putting it in perspective, Randy says his father’s former restaurant sat somewhere between 60 to 80 customers at a time. “But now, every day he gets to reach hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people a month. So I think it’s really cool to put a jet engine on his generosity to share his knowledge with so many people around the world every day.”
Based on YouTube data, Randy says 40 percent of their traffic comes from the United States and Canada, while the rest comes from the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Randy points to a combination of factors for “Made With Lau’s” rapid growth: beginner-friendly instruction, his father’s expertise, and emotional engagement. Plus in 2020, that kind of content was needed more than ever. “We launched during the pandemic, like peak pandemic. I think people were just cooking more at home, missing their families more.”
That was precisely the case for Nancy Wong, a fellow second-generation Chinese American in the Bay Area who first visited “Made With Lau” on a cousin’s recommendation. She says the videos alleviated the boredom she experienced not being able to work for more than a year.
“It was such a big help to me,” Wong says. “Some days I literally would wake up and think ‘OK, I’m going to thumb through some “Made With Lau” recipes and I’m just going to cook all day.’ That was something that filled the void in my days. And it just made me happy to know that it was something useful I was doing with my time, but on top of that, I was feeding and nourishing my family.”
While Randy initially started the channel as a family project to share with his children, he noticed many more food lovers in the “Made With Lau” community benefiting as well.
Pam Yip, a Chinese American fan from New York, can relate. Losing her mother at 17, Yip says “Made With Lau” gives her a chance to reconnect with the language and comfort food of her childhood.
“One of my regrets is that I wasn’t able to kind of learn these things from my mom before she passed,” Yip says. “Finding the channel in some ways, as simple as it sounds, helped me figure out ‘OK, there is a way to learn these things.'”
Wong is also one of those viewers reconnecting with her roots after losing several close family members, including her mother-in-law and own mother, who didn’t allow her in the kitchen growing up.
“I feel like I would be lost if I didn’t have those recipes to fall back on,” Wong says, calling the channel “a treasure.” An avid home cook, she admits some of “Made With Lau’s” recipes are even tastier than her family’s versions.
Born and raised in Guangzhou, China, Jenny and Chung Sun (“Daddy Lau”) came to America in the early 1980s and raised Jennifer and Randy in California.
Courtesy Randy Lau
“Made With Lau’s” strong family ties are key to its success, and everyone pitches in.
Besides lending his cooking skills, Daddy Lau, also an accomplished flautist, supplies the theme music. Jenny, Randy’s mom, helps answer viewers’ questions and shares memories of growing up in China.
Kat, Randy’s wife, helps ask pre-submitted audience questions and provides commentary. Jennifer, Randy’s sister, appears in some videos and is helping develop “Made With Lau’s” upcoming wok and cookware.
Kat and Randy’s son, Cameron (also known as “Cam Cam”), provides a cute addition around the dinner table. Viewers will soon meet the newest member of the Lau family, Kat and Randy’s newborn daughter, Maya, who arrived in March.
Jenny says their family was tight-knit even before starting the channel, but making the content gives them an opportunity to see each other more. “Since we have a video, we are more close,” she says. “This is not only for our family, for a lot of people enjoy it.”
‘Much more than a cooking show’
The family mealtime portion of the videos is a big draw for many fans who see themselves in the Laus.
“My family just loves food. That’s how we express our love for each other,” says Belinda Cheng, a second-generation Chinese American from Seattle. “I have a son who is a similar age (to Cameron) and so it just warms my heart … and it makes me want to emulate that with my family.”
“It feels almost like another home,” says Rebel-Osmar Adrian Rice, a “Made With Lau” supporter from Ontario, Canada. “My parents have passed away now so it’s kind of nice to see another family fully connected.”
As with viewers like Rice, Randy acknowledges that “not everyone who watches the channel is Asian or has Asian roots” — and that’s a good thing since “it’s building a sense of empathy as to who we are.”
“Food connects everyone around the world,” Randy says. “If you’re interested in food, you get that, but then you also get to spend time with our family and see like, ‘Oh, we’re actually pretty similar.'”
A prosperous future
“Inching towards” a seven-figure run rate, “Made With Lau” has come a long way since that first $3.00 check. Between their social media accounts, website, brand deals, and 500-plus Patreon supporters, the project has grown so much that Randy had to hire additional support for editing, writing, research, community management, translation, and partnerships. Most of the expanded team speaks Cantonese and all are passionate about the goal to “warm the hearts, homes, and bellies” outlined in its mission statement.
The irony of “Made With Lau’s” success is that Randy — who started the channel to learn his father’s recipes — has been too busy to cook much. He’s made “seven or eight” recipes with mixed reviews from his father — an “A” at Christmas but a “C” for Mother’s Day. Randy hopes to start cooking alongside his father in future videos and have the family conduct blind taste tests.
Randy would like to see “Made With Lau” reach one million YouTube subscribers by its second anniversary in the fall. In the meantime, the family is thrilled to see viewers replicating their recipes in their own kitchens.
“I feel really, really happy,” Daddy Lau says. “That is only the beginning for our audience to make at home, but they will improve.”
“More than the views, subscribers, revenue, I think it’s just really cool to see people making the food,” Randy adds. “If you believed in us that much, take an hour or two, and spend money on ingredients, that’s really cool.”