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Make what you love then sell it to the members of your tribe.

Q:  What do we mean when we call Wahoo's target market, "the boarding tribe?"

A:  Merriam-Webster says, a tribe is, "A social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations together with slaves, dependents, or adopted strangers; a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest; a category of taxonomic classification ranking below a subfamily; also, a natural group irrespective of taxonomic rank." This largely male group (though the females are coming on strong) is comprised of surfers, skateboarders and snowboarders. This is a "tribe" and that lifts them into a special category of target markets.

Chuck Allen, former surfing coach at Huntington Beach High School and founder of the national Scholastic Surfing Association and the USA Snowboard Association, comments, "You have to be a heck of an athlete to surf; it is very difficult." We saw surfers greeting Chuck Allen with a special hand shake while saying, "I love you Brother." Now that is tribal bonding. How many men do you know who walk around speaking the words, "I love you," to each other?

The surfer is a bold, brave loner. Matt George, editor of Surfing Magazine says, "The US has given the world two icons -- the cowboy and the surfer. They're one in the same. There's a total dedication to adventure." Selling to this tribe requires membership. Wing says, "There are no successful products or services sold to surfers that were not either invented or marketed by surfers."

Surfing is a global sport but the iconic roots are found in Southern California. It was the perfect place for surfers to start a surfer food joint. And the extension to skateboarders and snowboarders is natural. The boys and men (and girls and women) who ride the boards of all kinds are very much alike. They are independent, adventure-seeking and alone when they are doing their sport. One of the major draws of Wahoo's is it is a place to gather with other tribe members. The surfer is alone a lot but eventually is ready to be social.

Think about it

What does it mean to be in a tribe? Could your target market be described as a tribe? If not, why not? If yes, what insights do you gain from thinking of them as a tribe? Would they like to see each other more often? Can you provide bonding experiences for them that others could not?

Wahoo's Fish Tacos

Mingo Lee, CEO

2855 Pullman Street
Santa Ana, CA 92705

Visit our web site:

Office: 949-222-0670

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1991

HATTIE: Hi, I'm Hattie Bryant and this is Small Business School. The USA is a beacon to creative people around the world. This country is a place to actualize dreams and this television show is about people who are doing it.

Today, you'll meet men who are building a chain of surfer food joints... Wahoo's Fish Taco.

They came to our attention because they have won lots of awards, their ROI per square foot is off the charts and they tirelessly give to their community. They are part of the boarding tribe and this story begins because in 1988, three brothers, new comers to the USA agreed. There was no place for surfers to meet and eat like the places they loved in Baja.
HATTIE (Voiceover): Wing Lam, Ed Lee and Mingo Lee may not look like entrepreneurs, but they are. Their operation, Wahoo's Fish Taco, has over 700 employees in 43 stores. You’ll find them in California, Colorado, Texas and Hawaii and some like this location in La Jolla are owned by franchisees.

EMPLOYEE: Be just a couple of minutes.

HATTIE: Their initial idea was to start a simple business that they could run and make a living while surfing between shifts. They targeted their own boarding tribe, surfers, snowboarders, skateboarders and have expanded to all extreme sports enthusiasts. It worked.

Be Your Market - Become a Tribe!

The founders of Wahoo's love to surf, and they make food they love to eat.  They figured that plenty of surfers, skateboarders and snowboarders would want to eat what they make.     More...

Episode Overview - Wahoo Fish Taco

Mingo Leo, CEO, the youngest of the three brothers

California, Hawaii, Colorado: Something truly special is happening here. The founders of this business are immigrants from Brazil, whose parents are from China.   New Americans continue to introduce new insights and fresh ideas. A beacon to creative people around the world, the USA, more than any other place in the world,  is a place to actualize dreams.

Meet surfers who are building a chain of surfer food joints, Wahoo's Fish Taco. They started from nothing and now have over 40 highly-successful restaurants. They are loved by their communities and respected by their industry. Wherever they go, they have an instant family, an immediate bond with anyone who owns a surfboard, skateboard or snowboard.  Brothers Wing Lam Lee, Ed Lee and Mingo Lee launched the business in 1988.  They adopted a fourth partner as a brother, Steve Karfaridis, a Greek immigrant who managed five-star restaurants in his homeland. He's the systems guru.

Follow the insights of these people and you and your business will prosper.

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