Young Chang wasn’t sure he should let go of his high-paying job at Warner Bros. and enter the ramen business. His brother-in-law Henry Liao asked him three times to become a partner with him to sell the Taiwanese instant ramen noodle in America, which Chang had thrice refused. Then he had a second thought. Born in Minnesota to his Taiwanese parents, the now 44-year-old Chang ultimately decided to step out of his comfort zone and be his own boss. In 2015, A-Sha USA was born in Alhambra, California, with the idea of changing consumers’ perspectives about this inexpensive meal hack, and elevating the ramen game. — As told to Xintian Tina Wang
I worked in corporate environments for 18 years in Los Angeles, and I really enjoyed the comfortable life. One day, my brother-in-law Henry Liao told me he bought a historical Taiwan-based ramen noodle brand and he wanted me to be his business partner to sell this ramen to America. I was suspicious at that time because growing up in the States, instant noodle is very cheap and not healthy. I just don’t see myself selling cup noodles. However, Henry is persistent and I finally went back to Taiwan with him to try out this noodle. I was surprised that it tastes homemade, so he convinced me to do some side gigs for him while I was working at Warner Brothers full time.
I know nothing about the food business. I did not know: what is a distributor and what is a broker. I just went in by myself and said, ‘I have this tasty noodle’. So it was very tough in the beginning, like I wasn’t really sure how to get my products on the shelf. Then I asked myself: where do I shop and where do I usually go. Back in 2009, I went to the bubble tea shops and I started to sell our instant ramen there. Sometimes people listened to me, but most of the time people think I’m ridiculous and crazy.
It was a struggle for me at that time, because it was a lot of work on the weekends and evenings and I cannot spend time with my family. I just don’t know if we can do this, because we both don’t know about the food business. But Henry told me everything that we do is going be different from anybody else. We don’t have to try hard to do innovative things, because our mentality is already very different. With that in mind, we kept pushing.
And then at some point, I got the courage to go talk to supermarkets. I remembered the person in charge at Costco told me “Do you understand what you’re saying to me right now? Even if I say yes, just for you to get enough products to get into every one of our stores, you need to come up with like $5 million. Do you have $5 million to even produce the product?” I did not expect this, so I called up my business partner and he told me to do it. Within six months, we launched at Costco nationally.
This is a very different “strategy.” I use the word “strategy” in quotation marks because we didn’t have a strategy. We just have a belief. We believe our products are good and we believe people will like it. I used to fly all over the country to discuss partnership opportunities. I would fly out to New York from California to cook the noodle for them and then fly back. At some point, I realized I want to be my own boss, so I quit my job in 2015, and founded A-Sha Foods USA.
The word “A-Sha” means prestigious and exclusive in Taiwanese. That’s what our branding is all about: bringing healthy, homemade-taste instant noodles to everyone. Coming into the food market, everyone is fighting for attention. A-Sha is proud to partner with several influential brands. We are currently partnering with BT21, a group of animated characters co-created by K-pop band BTS and LINE-FRIENDS, to launch a product in October. This year’s Valentine’s Day, we drew an idea from the film Crazy Rich Asians to create our limited version of $550 “Crazy Rich Ramen,” including caviar, knife-cut noodles, and gold flakes. Also, Miami Heat basketball player Duncan Robinson asked us to send him noodles because he has been a fan since college. So we invited him to be our spokesperson in 2020 and he’s been an amazing partner of ours for the last two years.
Coming from a 100-year-old recipe, we really want to change people’s perception; that instant noodle is not cheap food. And to start manufacturing food that is healthier, lower in sodium, and kinder to our bodies. Now our ramen sells in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Europe, China, and Singapore. Our employees eat our ramen every day in the office for lunch and they can’t get enough of it.
I love the food business. It’s so impactful. People are buying our products to feed their families. Everything keeps me motivated and I don’t feel like it’s work. The only advice I could offer to business leaders is to keep working hard and never miss an opportunity, even if it means taking risks.