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OC Insider: Wahoo’s Long Ride

Ed Lee, who along with business partner John Park was named the Business Journal’s Restaurateurs of the Year for 2022 after expanding their Toast Kitchen + Bakery concept from Costa Mesa to Tustin, and for opening South Coast Plaza’s Tableau, has his hands full dealing with the fallout from the Tustin hangar fire; see the front page for more.

Lee also has some reasons to cheer of late.

Friday the 17th saw Wahoo’s Fish Taco celebrate its 35th anniversary at its first location in Westside Costa Mesa. The “iconic Placentia [ Avenue]” location was recently reopened after being remodeled.

Wahoo’s, founded by Lee and his brothers Wing Lam and Mingo Lee, in 1988, now counts nearly 50 spots, and is estimated to bring in over $60 million in revenue annually.

It’s the 24th-largest restaurant chain based in OC by sales, according to Business Journal data.

Lee, who turns 60 in January, says years of working alongside his brothers hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but in the end, “we can still go surf together.”

Ed Lee’s unclear on a timeline for reopening his Toast Kitchen + Bakery restaurant in Tustin but is clear on what the future holds for the area, and local agencies responsible for the safety of the area, its residents, and businesses: “There are going to be a lot of lawsuits happening.”

Looking for a lawyer? There were plenty on hand at the Business Journal’s latest General Counsel Awards, held last Thursday night at the Irvine Marriott.

See page 4 for more on the 13th edition of the event; profiles for the night’s five winners will run in next week’s print edition.

Change is underway at the South Coast Repertory, which last week announced that Managing Director Paula Tomei will step down at the end of the current season—SCR’s 60th and her 44th, with the last 30 years serving as managing director.

She will remain in the position through next August. SCR says its board is organizing a search for her successor.

“My heart is full of gratitude to have played a role in the extraordinary growth of SCR and to have had the opportunity to serve the theater and our community,” Tomei said in a statement.

During Tomei’s time at SCR, the theatre company has presented 435 plays, 149 of which have been world premieres. SCR counts an annual operating budget of $12.6 million and counts assets of $74.7 million, it says.

“South Coast Repertory, Orange County and the American theatre community have benefited immeasurably from Paula’s dedicated service and exemplary leadership over the decades,” said Talya Nevo-Hacohen, president of SCR’s board of trustees.

Nevo-Hacohen also serves as chief investment officer, treasurer and EVP for Irvine’s Sabra Health Care REIT (Nasdaq: SBRA), which was valued around $3.3 billion as of last week.

The announcement of Tomei’s planned departure comes about a month after the death of one its longest and biggest financial backers, Paul Folino.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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