Dallas food lovers got to know Yong Murphy because of her soup dumplings. As the founder of Irving restaurant Fortune House, Murphy gave the region its finest, plumpest, most flavorful dumplings, filled with so much broth they seemed like magic tricks.
But Murphy — who also goes by the names Yong Bei Murphy, Yong Wang Murphy, Yong Weng Murphy, Yong Bei-Wang-Murphy, Lucy Murphy and Lucy Yong; we’re using the name on her arrest report — gained notoriety last week for a much darker business.
Her new dumpling restaurant, Dragon House, shared finances and bank accounts with a Design District "spa," which is accused of being a front for prostitution and human trafficking. Six women were freed from the business, in which they had been held prisoner and forced into sex work.
And Murphy is one of six people arrested so far in the Dallas Police Department sting. She is charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and aggravated online promotion of prostitution, the latter of which is a brand-new crime Texas began prosecuting Sept. 1.
Here is what we know so far about Murphy and Dragon House’s involvement in the alleged crimes.
Her first restaurant, Fortune House, opened in Irving in 2015, after Murphy moved to Dallas from Vancouver. (She is a Canadian citizen; after her arrest, she declined an opportunity to contact the Canadian consulate for assistance.) The restaurant gained almost immediate praise for its dumplings, including glowing reviews in the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine and the Observer.
But Murphy, who turns 52 in a few weeks, underwent back surgery and began to tire of the restaurant business. In May 2017 she sold Fortune House to a Korean family, who still operate the restaurant now. Even though Murphy hasn’t been associated with Fortune House in two and a half years, her name is still listed on the restaurant's website.
Then, in a surprising turn, Murphy sued the new owners of Fortune House, the Kim family, after discovering the sale had included a promise that Murphy would not open a new dumpling restaurant within 10 miles of the old one. Unaware of the clause, she had signed a 17-year lease on a new place in Southlake — which later became Dragon House — 9.05 miles away.
Court filings by the two sides of the suit paint very different pictures of the facts. According to the Kims, Murphy had said she readily agreed not to open any other Dallas restaurants because she was moving back to Canada. According to Murphy, nobody told her about the non-compete clause.
She also claimed her English language skills were not good enough to understand the terms of the sale. She’d previously given an extensive interview to D Magazine, but the interviewer, critic Eve Hill-Agnus, agrees that "her language skills were not very strong."
At one point in the lawsuit, the Kim family attempted to force Murphy to disclose any other business ties she might have had in the Dallas area. Murphy fought against that effort, claiming her other businesses were irrelevant.
This summer, shortly after Dragon House opened, the two parties settled the lawsuit; terms were not disclosed.
Dragon House quietly built up its reputation over the summer months before an October review in The Dallas Morning News praised the restaurant's "life-changing" dumplings and gave it three stars.
Days later, Dallas police officers arrested Murphy and shut down Dragon House.
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They said they had followed cash deliveries from the alleged brothel directly to the restaurant. Dragon House and the "spa" shared a bank account, one of several accounts frozen by investigators.
"The restaurant is directly tied to Jade Spa’s owners and management and is financially linked to the illegal activities at Jade Spa," a Dallas police statement reads.
Six suspects were arrested and three remain wanted. No information has yet been made available about the case against Murphy, specifically. But she remains in jail until she can post two separate, $100,000 bails, one for each of the counts: engaging in organized criminal activity and aggravated online promotion of prostitution.
Although Murphy recently concluded a yearlong lawsuit against other restaurateurs, she told the court on Nov. 1 that she is unable to pay for an attorney. Judge Ernest White found the former Dragon House owner indigent and appointed a defense attorney for her.