“The Los Vegas dream right there, you go big, you own a bunch of real estate, you own a bar, you lose it all, you come home to the San Gabriel Valley.”
“I loved it. I grew up with it, but I knew it wasn’t… I thought it wasn’t for me. “
“I feel like I’m that Michelin man because every dish I make it’s like. It’s like I love it, oh it beautiful, oh I have to let it go.”
Michael was raised in the San Gabriel Valley after immigrating with his family.
Michael helped with his family’s restaurants, but he thought he never wanted anything like that.
Michael graduated from high school and got really into flair bartending.
He was recruited to a flair bar in Los Vegas.
He worked in Vegas for eight years as a real estate agent, bartender, and bar owner.
He lost everything in 2009 from the market crash.
He reset in his hometown and became a unique fusion staple in the SGV.
Russell and Scott sit down with an entrepreneur in the SGV. He is a restauranteur that has experienced tumultuous times in Vagus to huge crashes that have brought him home. Michael Taing talks about the ups and downs that have led him to own and operate one of the most creative fusion restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
Michael holds and operates the restaurant Cha Cafe in El Monte.
Like the San Gabriel Valley, the restaurant is an Asian Mexican fusion restaurant. One dish that highlights this perfectly ate the poké nachos.
Michael grew up in the SGV and attended the same school as Russell.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU FOR THIS RESTAURANT?
Every time Michael came back home, all he could think about eating were his two comfort foods.
Asian and Mexican.
He realized that these foods were his passion, and combining them made sense.
ARE YOU SERVING THESE COMMUNITIES WITH THE FOOD YOU’VE MADE?
Yes, these communities have strong roots in the surrounding areas by the restaurant.
They are located near Arcadia, El Monte, and Temple City. They are pretty fond of their
Michael was lucky, though, because they did pick their location based on who lived there, they just so happened to find an open building, and their food fit in perfectly.
Michael was not the original owner of the restaurant, though. He started as a manager and loved it so much that he eventually took it over in 2011.
WHAT WAS GROWING UP IN THE SGV LIKE FOR YOU?
Growing up, all Michael knew was the SGV. His parents worked 24/7 to ensure that there was food on the table and that the lights were on. Because of this, his siblings, cousins, and friends were close to him.
Michael was from Cambodia, but he is ethnically Chinese.
Cambodia was going through a terrible time when the killing fields happened. It traumatized Michael’s mother to the point of causing night terrors.
She would wake up and scream some nights, and nothing could be done for her. Back then, they had no clue about why this happened, but now these types of reactions could be attributed to PTSD.
CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH GANGS?
In Monterey park, where Michael and Russell went, there was racial tension between Latinos and Asians.
Michael had experiences where he was mugged several times just because he was Asian and alone.
Thankfully Michael hasn’t had to face hate crimes much anymore in his small world. He does, of course, worry about it for his wife and child. Luckily Michael’s older siblings were able to pull him out of these scary situations where he could have turned out in a much more dangerous life.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER HIGH SCHOOL?
Michael worked for his family business for a while before going to Vegas.
At that time, he thought he would never own his restaurant because the hard work and long hours weren’t worth it to him.
Michael wanted to be an employee, and that’s he was in Vegas. He was that for about eight years as a flair bartender in Shadow Bar in Caesars Palace.
He was recruited for this position because of a goofy passion. He was inspired somewhat by “Cocktail.”
He learned the skill by watching VHS tapes and ready books. He made a community by going out and talking to others who also enjoyed flair cocktail making.
Michael got his real estate license in Vegas and built his real estate portfolio before the market collapsed in 2006. Michael had six properties in his portfolio.
By night he also opened his bar off the Vegas strip called the Red Room Saloon. After the market crashed, he lost everything and moved back in with his parents in the San Gabriel Valley with only 9,000 dollars to his name.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE COURAGE TO STEP OUT?
Michael wanted to work at his parent’s shop. He didn’t give his parents a chance to try to stop him. He gave them a week’s notice before leaving town. He wanted another way, so he found it.
What was going through your mind when you returned and had to live with your parents?
Michael experienced a lot of depression, but eventually, he knew he had to get back on his feet. Luckily his family was still around to support him.
WHAT WAS YOUR OPPORTUNITY OUT?
Michael had the opportunity to work at the Cha Cafe restaurant. Michael found he enjoyed himself, and the owner found that they didn’t necessarily want to continue in the business.
Cha Cafe started its life as something different. It was a Vietnamese coffee shop. But it didn’t do that well in the area, so Michael felt it was okay to play with the formula of the establishment. He made something crazy that he would like to eat. Michael was a fan of Topaz, so he decided that was what he wanted to do.
However, Topaz wasn’t the thing for that market either.
So Michael played with his formula again to try to make it work. It wasn’t until his friend James Wang, who the Wang Box is named after, made a strange request. He asked for several Topaz dishes to be put together, which was delicious. That was how he came up with the excellent fusion idea.
That’s what the Cha Cafe is, just weird things that work.
1. is, of course, Cha Cafe.
2. The sriracha factory.
3. The founding of Panda Express
Michael Taing grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and is an Asian American Entrepreneur and family man. He is the father of a special needs child and supports the hearing-impaired community.
With a passion for Culinary Creativity, he enjoys the daily operations of Cha Cafe in El Monte. From picking fresh produce to making the sauces and working alongside the staff, he has a hands-on approach to business. Please visit ChaCafe.com
He is also an active REALTOR helping families gain intergenerational wealth through Real Estate.
“Growing up in the SGV, I moved houses every 2 years until my family bought a home in Monterey Park, which taught me the power of stability and how to gain wealth for the generations. I strive to help other families gain that security.”
Podcast Intro and Outro