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Thursday, Jun 13, 2024

From Refugees to Riches

RESTAURANTS: Yeng Family Finds Multigenerational Success

SAN DIEGO – What do doughnuts, noodles and whiskey have in common?
Hint: Think Ocean Beach.

The answer is the multi-generationally successful Yeng family – employees-turned-owners of OB Donuts that paved the way for Ocean Beach entrepreneurial restaurateurs and a renowned peanut butter whiskey inventor.

Southeast Asia natives Yao Yeng and Siv Yeng, a married couple who fled an oppressive Khmer Rouge communist regime and spent five years in a Thailand refugee camp with their three young sons, made their home in OB in the 1990s.

Steven Yeng
Skrewball Whiskey

The Yengs worked for, then bought and ran OB Donuts, saving the Sunset Cliffs Boulevard business from bankruptcy, and laid the foundation for a long line of familial success in the business world.

Two of their sons, Kyle Yeng, now 41, and Scott Yeng, 35, own and operate two restaurant-bars and a three-story, 7,000-square food and music venue, all in Ocean Beach.

The OB Noodle House on Cable Street opened in 2008, the OB Noodle House Bar 1502 on Niagara Avenue opened in 2014 and the Yengs’ live music venue/restaurant/bar on Newport Avenue called The Holding Company, was founded in 2016.

Perhaps the best-known member of the family is Steven Yeng, 38, who along with his wife, chemist/attorney Brittany Yeng, created Skrewball Whiskey, a peanut butter-flavored spirit.

The two developed it out of the original OB Noodle House in 2018, where Steve Yeng was co-owner and bartender.

Skrewball Whiskey was acquired last year by France-based liqueur company Pernod Ricard (Nasdaq: PDRDF) one of the world’s top sellers of wines and spirits.

Scott Yeng
Co-founder & CEO
Yeng Enterprises

While Steve Yeng and his wife are now based in Texas, Kyle and Scott Yeng have stayed in their adopted hometown and run three establishments under the group name Yeng Enterprises.

Coming to America

It was 1991 when then 42-year-old Yao Yeng and his wife Siv Yeng, 37, Cambodian immigrants who owned a successful butcher company in southeast Asia, landed in Ocean Beach through a sponsor family.

Almost immediately upon arriving, the Yengs found employment opportunity at OB Donuts, and eventually saved enough money to purchase the sweet spot, running it from 1995 until 2021.

When the family moved to OB from Asia, it wasn’t easy, said middle child Steven Yeng, then 8. Yeng said that the family spoke little English and “had no more than $20 in our pocket,” often depending on the community to provide sustenance — including peanut butter, his favorite food as a child.

Yeng contracted polio as a young boy and lost use of one of his legs from the illness. He gives much of the credit to peanut butter for helping him back to good health – a big reason why it became the star of his whiskey creation.

He also said working and hanging out at the donut shop on weekends with his family provided some of his best educational opportunities.

“It was also where I met a lot of kindness in Ocean Beach,” Steve Yeng said.

He said he recalls parents dropping their kids off at the donut shop every morning and being among a group of students who every day were walked to Ocean Beach Elementary School a few blocks away by the senior citizens who were regular donut shop customers.

“I learned about hospitality and community there, and that you always take care of the kids,” Steve Yeng said. “And my parents always believed that you always have to help people.”

Scott Yeng said helping out at the donut shop was his first foray into the working world, but more importantly it was the place where he saw the connection between food and friendships.

He said that connection was reinforced when he was at OB Elementary, as he was trying to fit in as a newcomer to the United States, and the exotic food he ate was enticing to classmates.

“Being an Asian family growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s in in Ocean Beach, we were a very rare breed,” Scott Yeng said. “But what helped me (connect) was my mom and dad always packed all of our lunches. And my parents, when they cooked, it was all these dishes from our background. We were probably the only Asian minority (in OB) and we had all this food that was new to the kids in my class, and they wanted to try them.”

He said his mother used to pack extra food for him to take when his class would go on field trips to share with other students, which helped build bridges.

“One of the coolest things that I learned at a young age was that any sort of diversity issue, any sort of misunderstanding, pretty much anything like that, can usually be calmed over a little bit of a good meal,” he said. “A big source of inspiration in the restaurant business has been that no matter how much prejudice or racial discrimination we have, I almost feel like food can help solve all that.”

Skrewball Whiskey, co-created out of the OB Noodle House by husband-and-wife team Steven and Brittany Yeng, was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 2023. Photo courtesy Crowe PR

Food and Beverages

Today, both OB Noodle Houses continue to draw crowds with not just the bao, pho, savory noodles and fried rice dishes that wowed his classmates when the Yeng brothers were young, but also steak, chicken, seafood and tofu — as well as a spirited menu of cocktails and alcoholic beverages, including, of course, Skrewball Whiskey.

The restaurants have been financial success stories, Scott Yeng said.

“Both restaurants are just incredible locations that are growing year over year,” Yeng said.

“I’m still surprised by it every time I’m looking at the financials.”

Yeng says the keys to the restaurants’ growth and success come via two reasons: because the brothers are charged with making all the sauces and overseeing taste and quality control, and because much of the staff the company started with remain.

He said while he and Kyle Yeng may view things differently, the thought of expansion is not in his scope at the moment.

“I believe in our brand and I believe that we really could emphasize the same ideology, the same philosophy at any town, any location nationwide and have tremendous success, but I’d want to make sure that whatever it is that we do is consistent, with the same resources, same ingredients, same level of quality control,” he said. “So whether you’re having fried noodles in OB or in Milwaukee, I would first want to have the confidence that we’d have the same level of service.”

Yeng said The Holding Co. has also been a success story, though it took a while to get it off the ground – literally.

After initially buying the spot formerly housing Gallagher’s in 2016, the Yengs shuttered it in 2017 for a teardown and full remodel, then reopened in 2018. The Holding Co.’s three levels allow for drinking and dining with a view of the OB Pier on the top level, has its restaurant on the middle level and offers live music on the bottom level.

Skrewball Still Mixing Well

The most well-know creation of a Yeng family member, Skrewball Whiskey, was born of Steven Yeng’s love for peanut butter, which he said needed to be added to just about everything: “On wings and noodles, fried rice… and eventually in whiskey.”

After launching in 2018, it achieved national distribution across the country by 2019 and was one of the fastest-growing brands in 2020. Launching into Canada that same year, it expanded into the Caribbean in 2021, achieving consumer retail growth of 1,976% that same year. Skrewball sold more than 1 million cases in three years’ time.

In March of last year, Yeng and his wife Brittany sold a majority stake of the Skrewball Whiskey business to Pernod Ricard for an undisclosed amount. At the time, the company was estimated by investment bank Jeffries to be worth between $300 million and $400 million.

Yeng Enterprises
CO-FOUNDERS: Kyle Yeng, Scott Yeng
CEO: Scott Yeng
BUSINESS: Restaurant Group
EMPLOYEES: 185 (OB Noodle House, OB Noodle House Bar 1502, The Holding Company)
WEBSITE: obnoodlehouse.com
CONTACT: 619-450-6868
SOCIAL IMPACT: Yeng Enterprises gives back to those that gave the founders their values and foundational building blocks, supporting the community through fundraisers for OB Elementary School and also helping support individual community projects and needs, including beach cleanup and graffiti removal.
NOTABLE: Parents Yao and Siv Yeng owned OB Donuts from 1995-2021


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