Wahoo's prepares for June 1 opening in H.B.

Wing Lam still isn't quite sure what happened to his last name.

The former Wing Lee had his moniker changed somehow when his family emigrated to the United States from Brazil in the 1970s. Either his father misspelled it, or the immigration official did, or one of them misheard the other and it wound up on his official paperwork.

The name, which Lam has never changed back, proved to be only part of the transformation. Wing Lee, the small-town boy whose idea of a lively weekend was to pick mangoes back home, grew in later years to be Wing Lam, the co-founder of Wahoo's Fish Taco, which launched in Costa Mesa in 1988 and has expanded to six states.

Thursday afternoon, Lam joined his brothers — Ed and Mingo, both of whom are Lees — in opening the franchise's newest location at 7891 Warner Ave. in Huntington Beach. The location, Wahoo's largest in California, hosted a media tour at noon and will open to the public June 1. A grand opening, which will coincide with a record release party for the band the Dirty Heads, is scheduled for June 23.

"I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, that I'd be out here," said Lam, who posed outside the restaurant with a crowd of friends, colleagues and City Council members before cutting a red ribbon with scissors.

As the founders met with media and politicians, crews continued to work on the building, painting the exterior and drilling skateboard decks onto the railing that leads to the front counter. The location will feature a full bar, rare for Wahoo's, and introduce a new breakfast burrito and churro chips that will be tested for the franchise.

Owner Tom Orbe said the 5,300-square-foot location is Wahoo's second-biggest nationwide after Las Vegas. He and his team have created a partnership with Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center and plan to host a fundraising party for the hospital Thursday evening.

Wahoo's already has a Huntington Beach restaurant downtown on Main Street, but Orbe said the city still made a natural spot for the plus-size location.

"Huntington Beach is great," he said. "Of course, it has the heritage of surf culture, which Wahoo's is all about."

The Lee-Lam brothers, who are surfers themselves, discovered fish tacos in their youth on trips to Mexico. They created the Wahoo's menu by combining that cuisine with Brazilian and Asian influences.

Mingo Lee, a Newport Beach resident, said he and his brothers had another strong influence on their business venture: their father, who moved his family from Brazil to seek better opportunities and went on to run a successful restaurant on Balboa Island.

In addition to adopting many of his business practices, the Wahoo's founders paid tribute to their patriarch in another way: Mr. Lee's Hot Chili Sauce, which he invented, is offered at all locations.

"It now has a cult following at Wahoo's," Mingo Lee said. "It's sort of a funky twist to our menu that we have a Chinese chili sauce."


Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World