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Making Waves

For the brothers who made the fish taco a million-dollar industry, it's all relative.
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This story appears in the September 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Vital Stats: Co-founders Mingo Lee, 35; Wing Lam, 43; and Ed Lee, 40, of Wahoo's Fish Taco

Company: Casual eatery offering Mexican food with a hint of Chinese/Brazilian flavors

2004 Projected Sales: More than $35 million

Meal Ticket: When their parents sold their Chinese restaurant in 1988, these brothers were offered an enticing challenge: Take $30,000, and start a business together.

Home Cooking: Moving to Costa Mesa, California, in 1975, the Brazilian-raised Chinese brothers set out to create a menu that would fuse their backgrounds with the Mexican fare introduced to them in Southern California. The result: a signature plate of charbroiled fish tacos, whole black beans and white rice, along with recipes gathered from family and friends.


"It wasn't meant to be a trendy place. Black beans with white rice-they're just staples in Brazil."

Local Motion: Their first store, in Costa Mesa, California, was on a street inhabited by surf apparel giants like Billabong, Quiksilver and Rip Curl. The surfing industry's ardor for the healthy and unique cuisine generated buzz, creating a "cool factor" that drew admirers from outside the surfing realm. The surfers are also credited with creating Wahoo's trademark d�cor-what began as a quasi turf war, with surfers slapping stickers from their brands on the restaurant's walls, became a tradition.

On the Road: With 35 locations (10 are franchised), mostly in Southern California, Wahoo's also hopes to find homes in locales like Arizona, Hawaii and Las Vegas.

Edition: May 2017

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