Alan Wong owns and operates 13 restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai. He opens his latest venture in Shanghai Disneyland Resort in summer 2016. (Courtesy of Alan Wong)
Sacramento native and Beijing restaurateur Alan Wong says that if he were a Disney character, he would be Mickey Mouse.
Now, he’ll be Mickey’s neighbor.
Wong (’00, Philosophy) is widely credited with being the first chef to bring California-style sushi to China’s dining scene. He is the founder and owner of Hatsune Sushi, and has a dozen restaurants throughout Beijing and Shanghai. In the summer of 2016, Wong will open his 13th location in one of the happiest – and largest – places on Earth: Shanghai Disneyland.
Wong’s latest venture will be the crown jewel of his culinary empire. In 2001, the young entrepreneur took signature sushi tastes like sauces, softshell crab, and, of course, avocado to Beijing.
Thirteen upscale restaurants and more than 800 employees later, Wong, 40, is one of the most successful restaurant moguls in China.
“We’re always reinventing ourselves,” Wong says. “We just like to have fun, and I think that’s the difference between our restaurant, which is run more California-style, and all the (other) Chinese restaurants, which are very much business-oriented.”
Wong (’00, Philosophy) says that his philosophy education at Sacramento State informs how he runs his businesses today. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
Indeed, from exclusive rooftop parties to celebrity cooking engagements, Wong is having all kinds of fun these days. Each of his locations sports a different theme – including an underwater design complete with airborne fish and an overturned boat – and is designed accordingly. He constantly challenges himself and his chefs to create new dishes and to one-up themselves in the kitchen.
His efforts have paid off: Of more than 9,100 Beijing restaurants listed on Tripadvisor (Yelp is blocked in China), Hatsune Sushi ranked 47th in spring 2016.
Fifteen years after moving to China, Wong says his philosophy education from Sacramento State still shapes how he runs his business.
“If you have a strong philosophical background, there’s really more than one way to attack a problem. And so in China, that really helped because the Chinese are so focused on the one way they’ve been told since the very beginning,” Wong says. “It’s actually ingrained in the culture.”
Wong is married with two young children. He returns to Sacramento on occasion and even brought his wife, whom he met in China, to visit his alma mater, where she was enthralled by the beauty of the trees and the abundance – and tenacity – of Sacramento State’s famous squirrels.
While still in college, Wong honed his culinary craft in Folsom at Tokyo Sushi. When he went to China a year after graduation to help his dad’s real estate business, he didn’t know he would end up spending the next decade and a half creating a gastronomic empire as well as starting a family.
Wong received startup funding from his father, and Hatsune Sushi became a hit with international expatriates and tourists, then with the native Chinese themselves.
Wong is widely credited as the first to bring California-style sushi cuisine to Beijing’s dining scene. He and his team are constantly reinventing and one-upping themselves in the kitchen. (Courtesy of Alan Wong)
There, in the world’s second-largest consumer market, Wong was providing a dining experience that the city had not yet seen, and it soon took him to greater heights than he had imagined.
At nearly 1,000 acres and a cost of more than $5.5 billion, Shanghai Disneyland Resort opens June 16 as the second-largest of Disney’s parks, dwarfed only by Disney World in Florida. It will be home to a 196-foot castle and some of the most exclusive real estate for dining.
It was no small feat for Wong to open up shop inside the Magic Kingdom. A self-identified Disney buff – “I can actually sing pretty much all the Disney songs,” he says – Wong titled his final presentation to Disney’s top brass “A113,” named after the homeroom at the California Institute of the Arts from which many legendary Disney and Pixar animators graduated. Further, “A113” appears as an Easter egg in many Disney films and in every Pixar production.
The little detail paid off big: After eight months of meetings, planning, and presentations, Wong got the green light.
“I get to open, in a space just like Downtown Disney in L.A., a restaurant that I’ve been bleeding over and sweating over for the last 15 years – and to do this one, this is going to be for sure the flagship of my company,” he says.
Not bad for a kid who once washed cars and sold skateboards. It is, in fact, the result of a tireless work ethic, Wong says – one that he hopes to pass on to his children, who he says are scared of theme park rides at the moment.
“By the time they’re about 7 or 8, I’m sure they’ll think it’s pretty cool that their family has a restaurant in Disneyland.”
Another huge brag point? The family can go on all the rides before the new park opens – no FastPass required.