Wahoo’s Fish Taco founder rides a wave of success

Wing Lam, co-founder of Wahoo’s Fish Taco, is the face of the surf-inspired taco chain, with 65 restaurants in seven states. The company started almost 25 years ago in an old Italian restaurant near a stretch of industrial office plazas in Costa Mesa.

Wahoo’s, the fast-casual taco chain, serves up grilled fish tacos with Asian and Brazilian influences in brightly colored restaurants where the walls are covered floor to ceiling with stickers and surfing memorabilia. An ode to Lam’s upbringing in Orange County, the chain’s laid-back Southern California attitude is central to the business model. “Not everyone surfs, but it’s an aspirational state of mind,” Lam said.

Lam, who started the business in 1988 with his younger brothers Mingo and Eduardo Lee, would take surfing trips to Mexico, where he scarfed down fried fish tacos from street vendors in between catching waves. When starting the business, he wanted to import the fish taco but give it a healthful twist: grilling the fish rather than deep-frying it.

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