Alan Wong '00 (Philosophy)
Philosophical about success
With four restaurants in Beijing so popular they’re turning away customers, Sac State alumnus Alan Wong says his philosophy major has been a big part of his success.
Wong also has three restaurants in Shanghai, and he’s poised to open two more upscale eateries in Beijing.
Wong’s family moved from Los Angeles to Sacramento shortly after he was born. His entrepreneurial voyage began in 2002 after graduating from Sac State when he was searching for some direction in life. Wong was working at Tokyo Sushi in Folsom when his father called from Beijing and invited his son to join his real estate business.
“It was not really my style,” Wong says of the arrangement, adding that he saw the work as tedious and stressful.
He looked around for something else, decided to put his working knowledge of the restaurant business to the test and opened Hatsune Sushi. Even though there were 300 other Japanese restaurants in Beijing at the time, Wong’s was different.
Rather than serving traditional Japanese cuisine, Wong served up his dishes in a modern California style, targeting non-Japanese expatriates and international tourists. “It was a completely different market, and I took all of their foreign customers,” he says.
So how does the study of philosophy help someone build a successful business?
“I look at any given problem from various directions so I have a wider insight to find a solution,” Wong says. “Critical thinking, logic and theories of metaphysics train you to be open-minded.”
With Hatsune a runaway hit, Wong could have just repeated his success by opening more restaurants with the same theme. Instead, he went with totally different styles for his next two endeavors.
Kagen is a hot pot barbecue restaurant, where hot coals are brought to diners’ tables along with skewers of raw meat. The third restaurant is a teppanyaki eatery, similar to a Benihana, with the food prepared on an iron griddle at a large table.
Wong learned the basics of business management from his father, Steve Wong, a Sacramento land developer, then applied what he learned from Sac State philosophy professors, such as David Long and Matt McCormick, to his wider view of operations.
The unique puree of philosophy and capitalism has paid off. Hatsune has won the best restaurant award in Beijing five years in a row and has been mentioned in The New York Times.
Wong says he misses California — his apartment is designed along the lines of a Lake Tahoe cabin — and would like to come back some day to open a smaller venue, perhaps 20 seats.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2009 edition of Sac State Magazine.