My Library and Courses
Last Update: Sunday April 11, 2021

Key Idea: Grow Your Own Leadership

Felicia Sorboni started at the bottom and is now general manager in La Jolla.

Key Question:


Wing, Mingo, Ed and Steve are fast learners. As they began to expand past their own ability to run all the locations, they first thought they would go out and recruit managers from other restaurant organizations.

Q: What actually happened?

A: Mingo said, "STOP." How can we possibly inspire the people who have worked for us if we don't give them a chance to move up? Therefore, the big idea to bring in big guns was shot down before it got off the ground. Thus, they committed to building a farm team so people could see the upward mobility potential. Why would you hire a person like Felicia then not give her a path to growth? Steve says she has what he looks for and that is enthusiasm and personality. He admits he can't teach those things but he can certainly teach a person with those qualities how to run one of his restaurants.

Think about it

What are you doing now that could be de-motivating to your team? Do you have a policy or a procedure that is discouraging rather than encouraging the growth of the individuals on your payroll?

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.

Go to all the key ideas and videos of this episode...
Go to the homepage for this episode...

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

Grow Your Own Leadership

WING: Trying to bring outside managers in -- the people that were there before -- "Wait a second, hey, we've been working there a year, two or three and now all of the sudden somebody else gets to run our store?" So we thought it would be better if we groomed our managers from within and they're able to basically earn their respect from their crew in order to run a store. So they feel much better about the fact that they know all of the components and they are able to really bring the team together. Because an efficient store makes you a lot more money than just a bunch of guys working.

MINGO: We felt that to keep our good people in the company, we had to offer them an upside. And so we sat down and decided to fulfill sort of a promise and a potential for growth. We needed to give them a place to grow to. So we basically created the Wahoo's farm system, like a baseball team. As we would grow them from the inside and as they were ready to go we would sprout off and go open new units. So that was, and of course you know you can never grow without customer demand, that was the customers wanting us to be closer to where they were, closer to where they live. That was the original impetuous to get us to three units. Getting us over three units to where we could manage them ourselves, was really a decision based on keeping our quality people how are contributing to our company. Giving them a place to grow to.

HATTIE: Felcia Sorboni is general manager in La Jolla. So would you say you worked your way up from the bottom?

FELICIA: Absolutely... I was a cashier, 17-years old in high school... .

STEVE: Felicia understood the concept from the get-go. She radiated, she projected that thing that I look for, that quality of enthusiasm and personality. And then you can train for anything.

Not a member yet? Learn!  Be empowered! Join us!