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Last Update: Thursday September 23, 2021

Key Idea: Think - The First Shall Be Last

Steve Karfaridis, the fourth owner, says they have built a flat organization chart. 

Key Question:


Make everyone feel important.

Q: How does this New Testament scripture play out at Wahoo's?

A:  Steve said he thinks the dishwasher is just as valuable to the company as the CEO. In 2004, the world famous American chef, Thomas Keller, opened a new restaurant in New York City. To guarantee the success of the launch, he brought from his Napa Valley, California restaurant, 25 highly trained employees -- including the dishwasher!

Marc Katz of Katz Deli in Austin, Texas said on a busy night, the dishwasher is the most important person in the place. We learned all about constraint theory from ModernPostcard's founder Steve Hoffman and he makes the point, "there can be no weak link. Your organization is only as strong as the weakest link." Even though the dishwasher may not need as much training and education as your top sales person, the "dishwasher" can hold the key to customer satisfaction.

Q: How does this thinking impact the corporate culture?

It absolutely makes people feel good about working at Wahoo's. They don't see or feel a pecking order. They don't have to fight their way to the top. They see themselves as part of the value chain. Customers give Wahoo's their hard-earned cash in exchange for a delicious, healthy, well-priced meal. Each employee at Wahoo's does their part to earn the customer's cash. What each employee does is a value-add and critical to the success of the operation.

Think about it

What can you do to make everyone feel more valued, more important, more involved and more vital to the over all success?

Clip from: 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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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

Think - The First Shall Be Last

STEVE: We sat down and we had decided that we can make this grow, we can open more restaurants. And I had told Wing one day, "You must leave Laguna Beach." He was running Laguna Beach essentially and I was there with him and supporting him and all that. "Get out of the restaurant, go to Bristol, go and do your next thing." And Wing kind of believe that, he can't do that. "If I do that, my customers are not going to come back, I'm going to lose my customers, they are coming in there for me." I said, "Granted, they are coming in there for you, but we can do that with other people so that we can move on." So I said, "Give me a chance to work this place, you move on for a little while, and we will see what happens." We went to work really hard, I mean it was the days when we used to use post-its and write people's names in there and what they looked like so we can get to know our customers. The couples, you know the lady had curly blond hair and the guy was bald and he had a gray mustache.

HATTIE: You worked that hard?

STEVE: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely! I had a panel in the back of the bar there and I had post-its, I just wanted to get to know these customers. It was a new product, new idea, a new concept, everybody was looking for the lard and the oozing Mexican food... HATTIE: the cheese... STEVE: and they were finding something else. But, we needed to explain the concept.

HATTIE: I loved the black beans, rice and tacos prepared the Wahoo's way. No lard, steamed tortillas rather than fried and fresh ingredients including cilantro in the salsa.

HATTIE: How did it happen that the baby became the president?

MINGO: It probably had something to do with family dynamics. I think we went with everybody's strengths. And I think responsibility... detail oriented. My older brothers, they have their gifts; they contribute absolutely to the growth of the company. But, I think the overall operation and managing the whole enchilada if you will, there is a lot of details and a lot of deadlines to be met. Again, we are a bunch of laid back surfers at heart. But some of us can overcome that to meet deadlines, the other ones need a little prodding. So, we formulated a system by where the guy who can hit deadlines can help everybody to get there. And I think that is probably the key to our success is taking everybody's natural abilities and talents and inclinations and then keeping them on track.

STEVE: What I have in my head is that the dishwasher and CEO are the same. That's what I have in my head. Because one cannot function without the other... period.

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