Since 1988, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos has served countless surfers, skaters and everyone in between with their unique spin on the classic taco featuring Chinese-Brazilian flavors. The company, while starting from humble beginnings in Costa Mesa, Calif., has played host to some of the greatest surfers in the world. At the center of this culinary revolution is Wing Lam (San Diego State University, ’84) and his brothers.
As an undergraduate at San Diego State, Lam followed the path so many Brothers before him experience: unsure if he was ready to follow the Greek Life path. But what sticks out in Lam’s mind vividly was watching as Brian Goodell take gold in the 1980 Olympics, proudly representing Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). Lam remembers a switch being flipped for him that maybe Greek Life could be more than the typical party scene.
So, Lam searched around and found a home at Lambda Chi Alpha.
Through all the memories from his days in the Fraternity, Lam is most fond of the simple times of coming together as Brothers over a meal or cooking for other Greek organizations, taking the helm with his kid brothers. It was a way, in Lam’s mind, to continue practicing cooking the incredible flavors of his Chinese-Brazilian heritage while making others happy.
But, as with most things, practicality took precedence. Lam graduated from San Diego State with a finance degree to go on to corporate America but knew the suit life was not cut out for him.
“And I thought, ‘Well, you know, this is kind of boring, just pushing paper’,” said Lam. “I’d rather do something more exciting.”
Since his graduation from San Diego, the one thing that Lam missed the most was the opportunity to go on road trips with his brothers to surf. As those trips became farther away, Lam knew those moments were what brought him joy, not being trapped at a desk job. But how to make that a living?
“The one thing we talked about is ‘Hey, we need to have a place where we can hang out’,” said Lam. “It would be kind of like a fraternity house but for all the surfers and skaters.”
Lam and his brothers decided to pull on what they knew best for this fraternity outside of college: food.
Within a couple of years, all the best surfers in the world were stopping by Lam’s little taco shack in Costa Mesa, the mecca for the surf industry in Orange County at the time.
And everybody came.
“We had four former world champions sitting in our restaurant at the same time with their sponsors, and that’s when I knew we were going to be okay,” said Lam.
As the surfing industry grew and expanded, so too did Wahoo’s Fish Tacos. Lam and his brothers began taking all events, tradeshows and beyond that no one else would take. Slowly but surely, the Wahoo’s name was becoming synonymous with some the biggest athletes out there, their own personal fraternity.
Lam then set his sights on other non-team sports, such as inline skating, mountain biking, snowboarding and Super Cross. Wahoo’s Fish Tacos became the go-to place for these competitors and began to open new locations to accommodate for the demand.
By 2001, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos was in 22 locations and had plans to open 40 more by 2006, making a name for themselves among team sports and with Olympians across the country.
In the wake of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos rise in popularity, the chain took a note from Lam’s days in Lambda Chi and looked how they could make a difference in the community, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
On April 12, 2020, Wahoo’s delivered 300 meals to a hospital in Irvine to support the California Love Drop, which was a collaboration between Lam and other partners to feed frontline workers during the pandemic to show their appreciation. To date, Lam and his team have delivered close to 40,000 meals.
From a local surf shack selling tacos to the chain of choice for some the most talented athletes in the world, Lam has created a fraternity of love and community, all founded on the idea that good food can indeed change the world.