Charles Zhang

Born in 1956 in Shanghai with the name Xianghua, Charlie Zhang was one of nine children in a middle class family. Zhang’s father started a successful coffee roasting business, which placed him at odds with the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). When he was 2 years old his father was imprisoned for political dissidence. Zhang was separated from his family at age 17 and relocated to the Chinese countryside for reeducation in the ways of the Chinese peasant by the CCP. He worked in the rice paddies and slept in a shack for the next 7 years. Zhang stated that during this time “My Clarinet was my only friend.”

After getting accepted to attend a small music school in Los Angeles, Zhang left his native China in 1982 for the United States in search of a better life. Zhang often boasts of the fact that he began his life in the United States with only $20 dollars and his clarinet. Needing money after his failed stint in music school, Zhang simultaneously worked as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant during the day and a gas station attendant at night.

It was during his early time in the restaurant industry that Zhang began to observe American tastes add sensibilities that would lead to later success in the culinary world. Zhang opened his first restaurant, Shanghai Charlie’s, in San Juan Capistrano in 1984. In order to meet the demand of faster service and “to-go” orders, he started Pick Up Stix in Rancho Santa Margarita in 1990. The restaurant chain quickly expanded to more than 100 locations in multiple states. Zhang sold Pick Up Stix for a healthy profit but stay on as CEO for several more years, diversifying his business interests in the beverage industry (Aseptic Solutions USA) and real estate development (Zion Enterprises). Zhang has spent the last several years focusing on philanthropic work, with a distinct emphasis on the performing arts around Orange County.