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Last Update: Sunday April 11, 2021

Key Idea: Create Chaos Out of Order

Ed Lee makes sure that this franchise doesn't look like one.

Key Question:


Create chaos out of order.  Yes. We said this right. If you are competing with big companies, as a small business owner, you want you customers to have a rich, soulful experience. It should not be sterile or cut and dried.

Q: How does Wahoo's achieve this one-of-a-kind fun and delicious experience?

A: We already said that they imbed systems to guarantee consistent food quality. Next, they work very hard on each location to decorate and furnish it in the spirit of Baja. If you've never been to Mexico then it is hard to imagine the goal Wahoo's has set for itself. A Mexican taco shop could be on the side of someone's house and on the back of that same house you could find a chicken coop. In Mexico banks won't loan for most construction so people have to save up their money to build something. This means they build what they can, then have to stop and save up some more money. Many things in Mexico then are "in progress" and appear undone.

Ed works hard to find locations that he can spin into a Wahoo's. The goal is to not look like a chain. They ask their surfer friends to donate surf boards and to bring in bumper stickers and product stickers. They use plenty of paint in vibrant colors and the many locations we've been in all have plastic and metal chairs.

Things are crowded. Too much space could make room for strollers and families. Do you get the point? They serve beer, too. Surfers in Baja would never have tacos without beer.

Think about it

Could this idea apply to your business? If yes, how?

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

Create Chaos Out of Order

FELICIA: Steak, Pork, Veggie...

CUSTOMER: Chicken FELICIA: Chicken

HATTIE: You know what happens to me as a customer coming in here? I feel like, the way everyone is dressed very casually and everybody's smiling -- and this is like my fourth one to be in -- it almost seems like there is no organization at all. Do you know what I am saying?

FELICIA: Absolutely. it seems kind of like chaotic... you know.


FELICIA: It's chaos.

HATTIE: But it's not is it?

FELICIA: Not at all. It is a very very strictly run business. Everybody knows what they're doing. (music)

(Back in the studio)

HATTIE: It's delicious. It's healthy. It's noisy. It's friendly. It's chaos. Each location feels like a one of a kind. It feels like the people in charge are just doing this for the fun of it. Customers and staff blend in some sort of free form dance. It's a nimble place. The tables are very close together which sends the non-verbal signal that if you come in to Wahoo's, you're one of us, the boarding tribe. It may look like chaos. But I knew what I was seeing was a fine-tuned program of service and carefully crafted systems that allow the people who run Wahoo's stores to have fun while delivering excellent food quickly with smiles on their faces. Usually chaos can not be duplicated, but these guys are doing it. The irony is, they build the look of chaos into their systems. And to succeed, Wahoo's must capture this in every new location. It's cultivated customer doesn't want pristine, predictable chain food. They want Baja.

HATTIE: you can learn more about starting and growing a business at And for specifics on the restaurant industry, there's the National Restaurant Association's site,

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