Years beyond their first taco shack in 1988, three brothers keep Wahoo’s Fish Taco top of mind. Oldest brother Wing Lam, “co-flounder” on his business card, might seem like the brand’s mascot, but brothers Ed Lee and Renato “Mingo” Lee are steeped in the company’s daily operations.
An entrepreneurial spirit inherited from their parents, who founded Balboa Island’s beloved Shanghai Pine Gardens, was fueled by their college educations and fully ignited by the Baja chow that restored them during surf runs. “We started with no clue, no business—we even forgot to put a sign out when we opened No. 3 in Costa Mesa,” Ed Lee says.
Wing recalls his passion for smoothies and the ill-fated attempt to sell them. He never mastered the blender; after repeated splatter incidents, smoothies left the menu. Their parents weren’t always supportive early on. “Mingo was our star student. The chosen one,” who was headed for law school, Ed says. “He would do homework in the car while we surfed. Our mom was furious when we convinced him to stay with us. ‘You two losers are gonna drag him away from a great career,’ she’d say.”
As the wave of Wahoo’s reaches 63 units in seven states and Japan, the clan vigorously buoys charities with sponsorships and killer grindz.
ONE MORE BITE: Wahoo’s was the first fast-casual restaurant invited to prepare dinner at the James Beard House. Guests paid $140 or more for multiple courses of Wahoo’s finest paired with elite California wines.