Description: Casual eatery offering Mexican food with a hint of Chinese/Brazilian flavors
Founders: Mingo Lee, 35; Wing Lam, 43; and Ed Lee, 40
Location: Costa Mesa, California, plus 35 more locations
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.
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 décor--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.