Wing Lam is the Co-founder and Owner of Wahoo’s Fish Taco. Wahoo’s is a US-based restaurant serving Mexican-Asian infusion cuisine influenced by Brazilian flavors. Wahoo’s has several franchises in California, Texas, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Japan. Wing was influenced by Brazilian cuisine while growing up in São Paulo, Brazil. He is also the Founder and Owner of the California Love Drop, an effort started at the height of the pandemic. Today, the California Love Drop continues to deliver food and essential supplies all over California, totaling 11,000 meals at 61 locations.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Wing Lam talks about the origins of Wahoo’s Fish Taco
- How Wing and his business partners overcame their hesitancy to serve fish tacos in the US
- What was the deciding factor to franchise Wahoo’s Fish Taco?
- The key to the restaurant’s longevity
- How did the pandemic affect their businesses?
- The origins of the California Love Drop
- How Wahoo’s partnered with local media and big brands during the height of the pandemic
- What’s in the future for Wahoo’s and the California Love Drop?
In this episode…
What happens when you spend most of your college free time surfing in Mexico? You befriend plenty of surfing pros, drink Mexican beer, and eat fish tacos. But that’s not all.
When surfing buddies raised a question to restaurateur Wing Lam and his brothers, they never imagined an idea would turn into the fish taco restaurant empire that it is today. But at the onset of the pandemic, instead of fearing the consequences, Wing and his team set out to help the helpers. Eventually, a simple act of kindness turned into a state-wide charity that aids healthcare workers and first responders. So, what was the cause, and how did it turn into an overnight phenomenon?
Listen to this episode of the SpotOn Series with host Chad Franzen of Rise25 as he speaks with the Co-founder and Owner of Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Wing Lam. Wing discusses how the restaurant became one of the first to introduce fish tacos to the US mainland. Additionally, he talks about how the pandemic affected business operations, the inception of the California Love Drop, and the future of Wahoo’s Fish Taco.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show. Powered by Rise25 Media. We feature top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world.
Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen here, cohost for this show where we feature top restauranteurs, investors, and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn series. SpotOn has the best-in-class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant, where they combined marketing, software, and payments all in one. They serve everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom-and-pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spoton.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients referral partners have thought leader in your space, there is no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to Rise25Media.com or email us at Support@Rise25Media.com. Wing Lam is Co-founder of Wahoo’s Fish Taco and the California Love drop, where they have been providing meals and essential supplies all over Southern California during the COVID pandemic. Hey, Wing. Thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?
Wing Lam 1:17
I’m doing great.
Chad Franzen 1:20
Hey, great to have you. So before we dive into what you’ve been doing throughout the pandemic, tell me a little bit about the origins of Wahoo’s Fish Taco and how the idea came about?
Wing Lam 1:29
Well, back in the mid 80s, as you know, cruising around getting graduated from San Diego State and one of the many things that benefits of going to San Diego State is their proximity to Mexico. So a lot of road trips from surfing and college, you know, spring break trips down to places like Ensenada, San Felipe Yeah, yeah. And one of the rites of passages is eating fish tacos and drinking, you know, Mexican beer. So, specifically Corona, you know, way more popular now than it was then. And my kid brothers enemy would always come down and visit their older brother and we go south to the border, catch some waves and you know, have some tacos. Everybody says, Oh, my God, why doesn’t anybody do this at home. And the reason is, dealing with fish is a little bit different commodity than chicken, pork and steak. So everybody says, yeah, nobody eats fish tacos, with surfers, or whatever. And we’re just going to stick to what we did, you know, the traditional meats. So a few years later, I know my brothers, says hey, Dad and Mom and dad are getting ready to retire from their Chinese restaurant. So my parents have had Chinese restaurants all over the world. So I’m born and raised in Brazil, where, you know, they had a short little about a 15 year period that they were down there. So my dad moved here, open a Chinese restaurant. And that’s how we all ended up here. And they’re getting ready to retire says you guys want to take over. Because it’s not not really we love Chinese food, but we don’t want to work in it. We’re all college, you know, graduate guys. But my good brother that says let’s look at you know what we can do. And I was kind of getting burnt out on corporate America after about four years of it. Because I’m I guess really not as much fun as it looks. It’s great to say you work in the aerospace industry. But it wasn’t that much fun. It was great work but not fun. And we looked around and was able to all the friends of ours that we grew up with that worked for the surf companies, because what they’re doing, but the problem is, in order to work for an actual sports based company, you have had to have been a former great athlete yourself, or an aspiring one, or best friends with one. That’s the only way you get a job in that world, you know? And we said, well, we don’t we know them, but we don’t know that well. And we’re not that good of a surfers or skaters or whatever, right? But everybody’s to hate. But one of the coolest thing is all the surfers talked about having food from where they surfed. And the two places was Hawaii and Mexico, which is the closest to California. And everybody’s going oh my god, you know, why doesn’t even fish tacos? I have no idea. And my brother and I, we tell each other when we do it. We know how to run a restaurant. And we said well, it’s kind of crazy. And somebody reminded us, Hey, by the way, have you have you looked in the mirror lately? You’re not Mexican? We’re not You’re right. He was. So let’s do something really unique. Bringing a little Asian fusion, which is basically what they eat in Hawaii anyway. And I think we can do this. So we created a Mexican Asian fusion taco place based around fish tacos, because we figured surfers are going to be you know, pretty cool. And Louis, I joke about the rest is history. Because we started in 88, literally, a day after George Bush Jr. got elected into office, and we were going into a recession and people said you guys are crazy. And you know, we’ve never really looked back.
Chad Franzen 4:49
So what did you guys do to overcome kind of the the hesitancy toward fish? You know, as at the time it was pretty much Taco Bell and meat you know beef and chicken. You guys came along, you know, you can find fish tacos in a lot of places. But what did you guys do?
Wing Lam 5:05
Well, we had the other proteins, but we Louis, our flag was fish tacos. And we soon realized that, you know, if you were not a surfer, you didn’t know what a fish taco was, right? You’re like, Ooh, that sounds kind of gross, you know. But, you know, we have this theory. And we call it the John Wayne theory, right? The reason my dad was crazy successful, his restaurant in Shanghai and garden on Bumble Island is still there after 50 years, right. So the incident that took my dad from being a local eatery to a local hangout, was the fact that John Wayne appeared one time. And I’m going to tell you, I don’t think he’s Was there ever more than once. But the one time, it took a picture, signed it for my dad. And the real story is John Wayne’s wise, publicists. What’s your name Gloria Cygnar. was basically say, hey, I’ll do this one time as a favor kind of thing for you guys. And the rest is history. Kind of the things because we’ve been friends ever since. So the one little photo, autograph sign hanging at the restaurant became like, well, this is where John Wayne hangs up. Never mind. It was only Chinese restaurant, the whole city, right? And so they went from I call it about 20% occupancy to an hour. Wait every night. Think about it. You’re in the red, one of the wealthiest part of Southern California. And there’s an hour wait to get into Chinese food. How’s that possible? Well, it was John Wayne. So that incident forced us to come and move from Brazil to America? Because my dad needed free labor. Right? So I always thought, okay, you know, when you have this incident, you need a famous person to kind of give you the endorsement. So I’ve always remembered that as a kid. So while I was open, and we were relatively, you know, kind of like, I wouldn’t say struggling but we weren’t aware, busy trusting. Right? I think we just need one, John Wayne. And the rest is I call it history. We didn’t end up with one John Wayne. We ended up with all the best surfers in the world are the best skaters. And so action sport became our go to, because everybody that was anybody that had won any world title was eating in our restaurant because their sponsors brought him in. Alright, and billabongs Quiksilver is all the action sports brands that were worldwide at the time. And so they come in and customers like, oh my god, there’s the guy right there. They just wanted Opie Pro or they just won this, because, yep, you know, their brands would bring them in. And so we built this cult following, because on any given day, in the summer, it was the half of the World Tour surfers eating at a restaurant. So that’s the beginning, we’ve never really looked back.
Chad Franzen 7:55
So how long before you you kind of branched out into other states? I was telling you before we started that up into several locations here in Colorado, how long before you kind of started to experience that that experience across other states kept