Famous restaurant chain founder on giving away his fortune

At the age of 17, Charlie Zhang was forced to work in the rice fields as part of China’s cultural revolution.

His father had been arrested years earlier for breaking communist rules, and his mother had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Though the situation was dire, Zhang remained hopeful – all with the help of his clarinet. Self-taught, he would sneak out with his instrument and practice. His love for music helped him through the most difficult times.

“The music brings me the joy, brings me my peace,” he said. “I feel that [every] time i play [the] instrument, this is the best moment…in my life.”


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In this episode of “LA Stories,” Zhang explains to Giselle Fernandez how a chance to go to school in the US changed his life forever. With only a briefcase, his clarinet and $20 in his pocket, he made his way to Los Angeles.

There, Zhang worked in restaurants while pursuing his dream of making music. The dream was soon ruined when he injured his hand and his chance to play professionally ended.

Not to be deterred, Zhang threw himself into his restaurant work and studied what Asian food Americans liked best. Armed with this knowledge, he opened a chain of successful restaurants, including the famous Pick Up Stix, which made him his fortune.

“It’s people’s work,” says Zhang. “I think everything” [that’s] successful [depends on] the people.”

Zhang is known for his many philanthropic endeavors, but he is most proud of creating OC Music & Dance, a not-for-profit performing arts school that aims to make art accessible to every child.

For Zhang, being able to share his love of music with children is his greatest achievement, and he hopes one day to leave this earth with just $20 that brought him to America.

“My next career in life is to give back everything I can to the country that loves me.”

Watch “LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez” every Monday at 9 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.

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