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Best Fast-Food Business To Start Now

[ 0 ] Jun. 25, 2012 | SBO Editor

$60 million for community-minded fun and fresh food biz.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco has been a community mainstay and worldwide pop culture phenomenon since 1988. Celebrated for its fresh food, pro-athlete support from the surf, skate and snow industries, sticker-covered walls and charity involvement, Wahoo’s continues to expand and is breaking ground in states that have yet to experience its eclectic Mexican-Brazilian-Asian menu. To date, there are more than 60 restaurant locations across the nation, with additional locations opening in the next several months and plans for international expansion in the near future. Sales for the company hit $60 million in 2011.

The latest restaurant to open is the New York City Park Avenue location, which had its grand opening on Feb. 20. With much anticipation as the first East Coast location, the launch was well received with die-hard and new fans introduced to the phenomenon that is Wahoo’s Fish Taco. Due to the incredible demand, there are already plans to open seven more stores in the New York City area. Wahoo’s is also in the process of opening a Tokyo, Japan restaurant location – with the possibility of other countries as well.

In an effort to meet the demand, Wahoo’s launched a growth initiative in 2009 to add at least 100 franchise locations in the next five years. Within the last two years, Wahoo’s has about one-third of the 100 franchise locations secured. Current expansion into different demographic marketplaces is changing how Wahoo’s has traditionally been recognized as a restaurant designed for beach towns and recreational resorts.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco built its name, brand awareness and customer loyalty on its enthusiasm for extreme sports and is known for its specialty charbroiled fish, steak and chicken tacos and immense in flavor and size burritos. The restaurant’s eclectic surf, skate-themed atmosphere and fusion-styled menu with a Hawaiian North Shore vibe have made Wahoo’s the popular choice for Southern Californians.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco was founded in 1988 by three brothers, Wing, Ed and Mingo, who together combined their love of surf and food to create a restaurant with an eclectic Mexican/Brazilian/Asian menu and a Hawaiian North Shore vibe. The first location opened in Costa Mesa, California.

Wing, Ed and Mingo grew up in San Paolo, Brazil, where they spent their adolescent years above their parents’ Chinese restaurant. Each day after school, the brothers worked in the restaurant peeling shrimp or washing dishes. In 1975, the family moved to Orange County, California, where their dad opened the famous Shanghai Pine Garden Chinese restaurant on Balboa Island, frequented by locals and celebrities alike.

The brothers grew up in the restaurant and on the beaches. Addicted to surfing, they would travel south to Mexico to surf, and it was in Mexico that they were first introduced to what would become their signature menu item: the fish taco. Years of surfing trips created a craving for the specialty of charbroiled fish, salsa and tortillas.

In 1988, when the brothers decided to import the fish taco to Southern California, they gave it a unique twist. They combined the fish taco with their Brazilian favorites and Asian-inspired items. The original restaurant was decorated with donations of local surf companies, further fueling the development of a loyal and steady following of locals. Some customers began visiting daily, and servers gained a familiarity with their orders, lending to the friendly atmosphere.

In 1990, Steve Karfaridis joined as a partner and served as a catalyst for expansion into Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach.
To learn more about Wahoo’s Fish Taco, please visit www.wahoos.com

Meet the principals:

Mingo Lee/Co-Founder/CEO: As the youngest brother of the three co-founding brothers, Mingo co-founded Wahoo’s Fish Taco and has more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Mingo is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Wahoo’s Fish Taco. In addition, Mingo has been an active supporter of many organizations such as the Children’s Hunger Fund.

Eduardo Lee/Co-Founder/Partner: Ed co-founded Wahoo’s Fish Taco with his older brother and younger brother in 1988 and has more than 35 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Ed is in charge of overseeing Wahoo’s continued expansion

Wing Lam/Co-Founder/Partner: As the eldest of the three founding brothers, Wing co-founded Wahoo’s Fish Taco in 1988 and has more than 37 years of experience in the restaurant industry.

Steve Karfaridis/Partner/COO:Steve joined the three founding brothers as the fourth partner of Wahoo’s Fish Taco in 1990. Steve has held various roles in the restaurant industry since 1972 and, in 1986, formed the American Resources Management, which served as a consultant to many renowned restaurants throughout Orange County, California.

The three brothers, Mingo Lee, Eduardo Lee and Wing Lam built their business brand, name and customer loyalty based on their love of extreme sports. The restaurant’s mix of surf and skate-themed decor reflects this and the trio serves up a fusion-styled menu with a Hawaiian North Shore vibe.


Since opening their doors, the original Wahoo’s Fish Taco has never changed. All food including the salsa, fish, meat, and rice are prepared fresh each day onsite. The Banzai Burrito was created after several customers requested the famous Banzai Bowl wrapped up in a tortilla. To this day, the Wahoo’s menu continues to be reinvented with the help of customer and employee recommendations.

Wahoo’s first catering job was for Billabong’s National Sales Meeting in 1988. The now famous sticker-lined walls started at the Costa Mesa 1 location, when competing surf companies posted banners to stake their claim on tables in the restaurant.

Each year, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos works with several hundred local charities.

Over the past two decades, the company has partnered with more than 100 professional athletes including Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater and Ryan Sheckler.

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Category: Magazine, Start Your Own Business, Start Your Own Business Fall 2012