Featuring Tony Lam:
Shark Tank Winner, Human Connector, Foodie Techie, Serial Entrepreneur, Marketer, Investor, Mentor
Serial entrepreneur and all-around dynamic human being Tony Lam is a first-generation American who was three months old when his family fled Vietnam on a harrowing boat journey during the fall of Saigon. Through a Catholic Charities initiative, his family was taken in by an American family in Southern California for a few years and then relocated to the Bay Area.
Tony says he was an average student growing up and had to overcome racial prejudice. He went to Cal Poly SLO and graduated with a business degree, becoming a self-professed workaholic in the corporate world for Cisco for 15 years, saving up money to start a family. Wanting a bigger challenge, he decided to go off on his own to start the first of many entrepreneurial ventures.
“I wanted to be my own boss and control my own destiny. I knew if I had the passion and I put my mind to it, I would succeed. I knew I could prove the naysayers wrong without hesitation,” he said.
Today, Tony has so many entrepreneurial ventures, a partial list is the easiest way to summarize:
- Co-owner and Chief Strategy Officer of Omni Bev, a manufacturer of authentic bottled Vietnamese cold brew coffee products. Tony is on a mission to take Vietnamese coffee mainstream in the US market, with a goal to get in 10,000 stores in the next five years.
- Co-owner and Shark Tank winner with Maven’s Creamery, the largest all-natural macaron ice cream manufacturer in the USA and winner of Shark Tank, striking a deal with Barbara Corcoran, and now expanding into several major retailers and grocers.
- VP Marketing, Enterprise Purchasing Group, a purchasing organization that provides a competitive edge to businesses through free access to exclusive vendor contracts and industry-leading procurement resources.
- Franchisee of Wingstop and President of the San Francisco Bay Area Wingstop Marketing COOP. Tony is a partner in five Bay Area Wingstop restaurants. Tony enjoys the brand and the wings, though his wife only permits him to consume chicken wings once weekly.
- Tony is also a partner, investor, and advisor in other restaurants and food and bev enterprises: Okashi Fusion Poke and Dessert, Alamar, a partnership with Portland Top Chef contestant Nelson German, and VitaBowl
Tony told me all about what is brewing with his various businesses and how he balances it all:
What inspired you to start Omni Bev, your venture for Vietnamese cold brew coffee? How is it going today?
Back in 2017, My business partner Tammy Huynh discovered that her uncle owned one of the largest coffee bean plantations in Da Lat, Vietnam. Did you know that Vietnamese is the largest exporter and producer of coffee beans? Not too many people know this, and it is unfortunate that Vietnam does not get the recognition as having premium coffee. Tammy and I have set out a goal and mission to take Vietnamese coffee mainstream.
In two years, we have perfected our Vietnamese RTD (Ready to Drink) cold brew and are about to get into 10,000+ locations by year-end through our exclusive distributor CoreMark International. This is keeping us quite busy with just a team of four! But we are up for the challenge and looking forward to expanding quickly into more locations.
What was it like having your Maven Creamery business on Shark Tank and striking a deal with Barbara Corcoran? She is one of my business heroes! How has it impacted the business?
I have always dreamt of having one of the businesses appear on one of my favorite shows of all time. We went from starting our business in a 400-square-foot garage to appearing on Shark Tank and striking a deal with Barbara. It is an entrepreneur’s dream come true!!
That appearance on the show opened so many opportunities for Mavens Creamery. We were originally only selling our macaron ice cream sandwiches in California, but we are now in over 25 states across the country and adding more pin drops to the map every month.
Tell us about Okashi Fusion Poke and Dessert and how is it different from other poke concepts? What are the development plans?
Okashi Fusion is not your typical Poke shop. We are the one-stop-shop where our customers can enjoy their poke bowls along with some of the most innovative desserts in the market. Our dessert menu consists of our famous mochi donuts, shaved ice, boba drinks, and of course macaron ice cream sandwiches. We have a 4.8 Yelp Rating in the past five years and a ton of repeat business.
We have now proven the concept and are looking to expand more stores across the state. We are also exploring ghost kitchens to expand very quickly.
You have a website called launchyourfirst.com to partner with emerging entrepreneurs in the food and beverage space. Any interesting projects coming your way with that?
The pandemic has given me a sneak peek of how to expand innovative concepts quickly in the food space by leveraging my distribution and partner network. It took me over five years to open five Wingstops when I first started over 16 years ago. We now can take any food concept and expand it to 200 locations within three years. Imagine 200 stores doing $1M in sales right off the bat! This is what excites me the most in the food and bev space.
How do you manage to balance all these projects and ventures you are involved in and raise a young family?
Lifework balance is important to me. Time management is the key to balancing the juggling act. Family is my number one priority, so I make sure I do not take any calls during family time.
I love the start-up life, but you can burn out quickly if you do not know what you are doing. I have made my mistakes early in my life and paid my high tuition for those learning experiences.
My advice is to surround yourself with good and smart partners. Did you know that 80% of all partnerships fail? I am blessed to have 15 businesses today with different partners and we get along so well.
As an entrepreneur, you cannot do everything on your own. Sometimes you need to delegate the work with your business partners. Identifying the roles and responsibilities of each partner at the very beginning is crucial in knowing where the gaps are and what positions are required to be filled to close those gaps. Use Wray Search to help!
Want to see an inspiring short video about Tony and his life story? Check out the Asian Hustle Network Spotlight Episode 3: Tony Lam, Serial Entrepreneur.
Need to a top-notch recruiter to help you find top talent to partner with? Contact Rebecca at Wray Search: firstname.lastname@example.org