As the eldest of the three founding brothers Ed and Mingo Lee, Wing Lam co- founded Wahoo’s Fish Taco in 1988 and has nearly 40 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Wahoo’s Fish Taco, headquartered in Orange County, California, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Lam a Chinese immigrant, spent his childhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil, before he moved to Costa Mesa. In 1970, Lam’s father, Cheong Lee, opened a Chinese restaurant called Shanghai Pine Garden, which the family still owns, on Balboa Island. Wing and his brothers grew up speaking conversational Portuguese, Chinese, French, and Spanish fluent, but learned English by listening to customers in their family restaurant.
Lam, known today as the “ultimate wing man,” restauranteur, surfer, speaker and philanthropist, graduated from Costa Mesa’s Estancia High School. Even when he had his first taco stand, Lam’s water polo coach, John Carpenter, inspired him to give back to the school. He then spread his generosity to the baseball team at Saddleback College and the water polo program at UC Irvine. Lam eventually left Orange County and graduated with a degree in finance from San Diego State.
Wing and his brothers road tripped to Mexico, and they loved the fish tacos there. Their vision was to create a fast-casual Mexican restaurant with a streamlined menu, inspired by their Brazilian-Chinese heritage. The brothers opened their first Wahoo’s in 1988 in Costa Mesa. Now there are more than 60 locations, mostly in Southern California, but also in Las Vegas, Denver, Philadelphia, Honolulu and Tokyo.
Wing, often the face of Wahoo’s, has been featured in a national Merrill Lynch commercial and two Food Network shows, “Unwrapped” and “Beach Eats USA.” In addition, Wing actively supports many national and local community-based events and serves as a board member of various non-profit organizations, among many includes Share Our Strength, Juvenile Diabetic Research Foundation and Surfrider Foundation.
Wing makes repeat appearances as the guest speaker/panel at events such as the IEG Conferences and has been featured by nation’s top campuses like Yale, UCLA and USC MBA Program. Lam is also active in the Asian American Journalists Association. In 2018, he received the 2018 Corporate Creativity and Innovation Leadership Award from the Child Creativity Lab and the 2018 IMPACT Award from the International Executive Council. Over the years, Lam, his brothers, and Wahoo’s Fish Taco have been named one of the 500 Most Influential by the Orange County Business Journal, Best OC Brand by OC Weekly, the Golden Foodie Award and has countless awards for philanthropy and business achievements.