Magic Wok grows from its Toledo rootsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Area residents enjoy nearly a million Magic Wok egg rolls each year, but many don’t realize the family-owned chain is local.
“A lot of people from out of town — and even people here in Toledo — don’t realize Magic Wok was actually founded in Toledo,” said Marketing Director Annie Pipatjarasgit, whose father-in-law, Sutas Pipatjarasgit, started the business in 1983. “We started putting ‘Founded in Toledo’ on our ads because people thought Magic Wok was a national brand.
“The main thing is, I want people to know we are part of Toledo. We are local, we support local organizations and we hire local people. We take pride in what we do. If you are from Toledo, you know how many restaurants come and go, open and close. We’ve been here a long time and we’ve built our reputation. We are proud to be here.”
The first Magic Wok opened in the food court of what is now Westfield Franklin Park. The newest restaurant, at 5145 Monroe St. in Toledo, opened in 2009. The family has a goal of having 30 stores by 2015.
“I think in Toledo we’ve filled the market pretty good, but we still see room for a couple more,” Annie said.
There are eight Magic Wok locations in Toledo and Maumee as well as three in Michigan. The chain has even gone international, with three locations franchised in Bahrain. The family later added the Tropical Grill & Juice brand, which has two locations, one at Westfield Franklin Park and the other at a mall in Michigan.
When he immigrated to the United States from Thailand in 1968, 25-year-old Sutas, who is ethnically Chinese, had $300 to his name.
He quickly landed a job at a Chinese restaurant in New York City, where he learned to cook. He also drove a taxi, tended bar and worked in a factory.
“I was never scared. Coming to a new country, you always get excited,” Sutas said. “Money was no problem at that time. When you lived in New York City, you always can walk. I walked all the time, even though it was so cold in January. I had a lot of energy in that time. That was fun at that time.”
When it came time to raise a family, Sutas moved to southeast Michigan, where several attempts to start restaurants failed. One wiped out his savings and he had to start over, starting as a bus boy at a Chinese restaurant and working his way to manager.
Still nursing the dream of owning his own restaurant, Sutas and a partner opened Gourmet of China, a sit-down Chinese eatery in Toledo. The venture was successful, but Sutas had a vision of a Chinese eatery that offered fast, hot, fresh, healthy customizable entrees prepared in an open kitchen style. When an opportunity came to sell his half of Gourmet of China, he did so and opened his first Magic Wok.
His second Magic Wok location, on West Laskey Road, featured a drive-thru window.
“It was really, really new at the time for an Asian restaurant to offer food through a drive-thru window,” Annie said. “Some researchers told him, ‘There’s no way you can do it with a drive-thru,’ but he went ahead with it and I think we know now that it worked.”
The company continues to innovate. About 10 area schools regularly order meals for student lunches, some as often as once a week, through its Magic Wok School Lunch Program.
“We pack it and deliver it and the school handles it from there,” Annie said. “It’s just an alternative to regular lunches like pizza, burgers, sandwiches. Now there is an Asian option.”
Although dishes like chicken fried rice, sweet and sour chicken and Szechuan spicy chicken are popular, the eatery is perhaps best known for its egg rolls, Annie said.
“We’re really proud of our egg rolls because our customers like them,” Annie said. “We have a lot of people who are crazy about our egg rolls.”
What sets Magic Wok’s egg rolls apart is quality, Annie said. The rolls are made with lean meat balanced with a mix of vegetables for optimal flavor and always served hot and crispy, she said.
The eatery prides itself on offering healthy cuisine, Annie said.
“Our food generally consists of a lot of vegetables,” Annie said. “We cut our vegetables fresh every day, prepare our sauce fresh every day. Our meat is lean-cut and prepared daily, too. The original concept of Magic Wok is cook to order. You can order your meal with less oil, with more vegetables, less meat. You can customize your meal just the way you like it.”
Noodle dishes, like Lo Mein dishes and Pad Thai, have been gaining in popularity lately, Annie said.
“We introduced Pad Thai five or six years ago, and it just now seems to be really catching on,” Annie said. “It was popular at UT from the start, but other stores seem to have taken a while to catch on. It’s a new flavor to the market. It was part of our goal to expand our menu from just Chinese to other Southeast Asian flavors. Because we’re from Thailand, we like to fuse Thai culture and Thai food into our brand.”
Sutas, now 69, is semi-retired, but still visits restaurants daily.
“I love to do it,” Sutas said. “I love to talk to the kids and see how they are doing, I love to walk into the store and see what they are doing, see if it’s how it’s supposed to be. I’m lucky because they’re all good kids.”
Annie said the company sets high standards for itself.
“We not only pride ourselves on good, hot, fresh, tasty meals, but also strive for good service,” Annie said. “What people know about Magic Wok is the convenience and we strive for that, too. Our goal is to get customers through the drive-thru window within three minutes. We strive for 100 percent satisfaction.”
For more information, visit www.magicwok.com.