Wahoo’s ‘nourishes’ customers by sticking to its wholesome roots

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Ribbon cutting at Wahoo's in Los Alamitos

After traveling from China with their family, three brothers Ed, Mingo and Lee lived in Brazil, surfed in Baja, California and worked in the family’s Chinese restaurant until they decided to open their own establishment in 1988.

They wanted to serve food to “nourish the body,” yet would also make patrons “feel alive.”

Named after the tasty fish that would ultimately fill their fish tacos, the brothers dubbed the establishment Wahoo’s Fish Tacos and today, they have more than 60 locations, including one of the newest restaurants located in Los Alamitos.

After growing up watching their family operate Chinese restaurants where customers had to “wait for a server” to bring them food, the brothers wanted something different. In Wahoo’s customers could walk in, order what they wanted, and serve themselves, said Orbe.

Wing Lee, the “surfer dude” is one of the founding brothers who, in addition to his business acumen, has a well-earned surfing reputation throughout coastal California. He came to Los Alamitos Thursday to join with owner Tom Orbe and a host of local government and business officials to officially cut the ribbon on the Los Alamitos restaurant.

Orbe, a former corporate marketing executive, said he was lured into the brand by his daughter, Ellen, who works for Wahoo’s corporate office. What began as a consulting gig for Orbe turned into a full-time job and which has now transitioned again, this time into ownership of his own restaurant along with his daughter.

His daughter Ellen, who now runs the Los Al location, has worked Wahoo’s since graduating from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo with a degree in nutrition 15 years ago. “She absolutely loves the company, the people and the business,” he said.

To be sure, Wahoo’s is growing wildly, with restaurants under construction inside Los Angeles International airport and on the east coast of New Jersey. They currently also operate units throughout California, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada and Pennsylvania. They have an international location in Japan. Despite the growth, however, Orbe said Wahoo’s will never abandon its casual surfer style, both inside their restaurants and with management. True to form, Lee was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt for his special appearance in Los Alamitos.

“We’ve been blessed in terms of the business,” said Orbe. He said Wahoo’s in Los Alamitos has done very well and Orbe thanked the public and city officials for welcoming them into town. Los Al “has embraced us,” he said, “and we really appreciate it.”

Orbe said opening a business in Los Alamitos was so much easier than other cities in which they operate. “It was like night and day,” he said.

Orbe said Wahoo’s full menu is a fused combination of Asian, Mexican and Baja, California dishes. “It’s good for you and will energize you as well.” He said customers can get “customized” orders, including vegan, vegetarian, gluten free and keto options. Everything is handmade and homemade, said Orbe. Customers can even “pick their proteins.”

All of the Wahoo fish served are taken in the wild, said Orbe, and all of the menu items are populated with wholesome and fresh ingredients. Not only is food served casual and fresh, but the tables are adorned with surfer and travel stickers placed by customers themselves to give the restaurants a cool, beach vibe.

Wahoo’s offers tacos, enchiladas, burritos, selected entrees, famous bowls, shared plates, soups, salads and a menu just for kids. They offer onsite catering and recently received their full liquor license in Los Alamitos. He said the bar is very reasonably priced and offers the best Margaritas in California.

“We can host private parties as well,” said Orbe.

Wing Lee posed for selfies with patrons, with the elected officials and he welcomed and thanked everyone who came for the grand opening.

According to their longstanding philosophy, “at Wahoo’s, we encourage you to nourish yourself with good and experiences that make you feel more alive. So, ride those waves, care for your community, love what you eat every day and be authentically you. Our family is here to feed yours.”

The Los Alamitos location is located on Los Al Boulevard near the intersection of Katella.