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Wahoo’s Fish Taco Discovers What It Takes To Open In A Historic District

January 17, 2012

Wahoo's Fish Taco in Orange, California

The Orange County Register’s Fast Food Maven, Nancy Luna, has shared with her readers that Wahoo’s Fish Taco will be hosting a VIP preview party on February 2, 2012 at its soon to be open location in California’s largest historic district, Old Town Orange.

The opening of this new Wahoo’s location will be in the Vineland Hotel building on West Chapman Avenue in the City of Orange.  It was built in 1886 and was the first hotel in the city.

Opening up a business in a historic district involves preserving the building’s historical character while complying with current building codes.  It took Wahoo’s about three years to open this new location.

The following is from an Orange County Register article regarding what it took for Wahoo’s Fish Taco to open its new location in Old Town Orange – Mingo Lee has never taken more than three years to open a Wahoo’s Fish Taco.

He and his brothers Wing Lam and Eduardo Lee have opened more than 50 locations during the past 14 years – and each took four to six months from conception to completion.

But progress in the state’s largest historic district takes place at its own pace, as Mingo Lee learned when purchasing the old Vineland Hotel for $1.1 million in 2008. After more than three years, multiple historical consultants and countless plan revisions, Old Towne Wahoo’s Fish Tacos should be opening it doors early next year.

The final cost of the additional renovations?

Nearly $2 million.

“Without the city’s (financial) partnership, we would have left the deal on the table,” Mingo Lee said.

Once filled with antique shops, Old Towne Orange is evolving into a popular shopping and dining destination for people around the county. But those who want to do business here must balance profit seeking with preservation.

Mingo Lee admits he didn’t know what he was getting into when he purchased the Vineland Hotel, on West Chapman Avenue, two blocks from the traffic circle. Built in 1886, it was the first hotel in what is now the city, and is one of the county’s oldest. Owners had left it vacant for decades.

Five layers of roofing material had to be stripped away and replaced. The second floor of the building was unstable, and the staircase lacked support beams. Even the brick-and-mortar foundation had to be replaced with concrete.

Bringing the old building up to building codes would be costly. Doing so while preserving the building’s historical character would be costlier. And historical approvals had to be sought and construction documented at every step of the way.

“We weren’t totally prepared for all the work it was going to take,” Mingo Lee said.

It’s been the same story for many new businesses in Old Towne.

Ed Patrick, co-owner of Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen at 141 S. Glassell St., was so wary of the approval process that after he completed his renovations in 2005, he didn’t erect a sign over their restaurant. The façade is still bare today.

“That would have held us up from opening,” Patrick said. “We’ve been a very word-of-mouth place.”

Al Ricci, who developed several Old Towne restaurants, including Beach Pit Barbeque on 128 N. Glassell St., said he also had to spend millions to bring his properties up to code.

“If you want to be in Old Towne, you have limited choices,” Ricci said.

The federal government does not enforce historical design standards. That’s the prerogative of local groups like the Old Towne Preservation Association and the city, said Orange’s historical planner, Dan Ryan. He said that business owners should know what they’re getting into: some uncertainty.

“There’s always unforeseen problems in any historic structure,” Ryan said.

The city can use redevelopment funds to…to read the rest of this story, please click here.

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