Mr. Johnny Lee, the founder of Sun Lee Inc., moved to the United States in 1980. After arriving in California, Mr. Lee was disappointed with the quality of the Thai food market. While the Asian—and specifically Southeast Asian—population was growing in the US, the foods that were so important to families and the Thai culture were largely unavailable to these people. The taste of home then became difficult to recreate. In 1982, with little savings and a family to provide for, decided to bring a piece of his home to his community. He and one of his friends then took the opportunity to start Sun Lee. This company would be focused on important various Thai foods and high quality ingredients. Initially, Sun Lee was targeted towards Thai Restaurants and Asian grocery stories, but after struggles in the first year, Mr. Lee’s business partner withdrew from the company, unwilling to take the risk of the business. Mr. Lee; however, never gave up. He knew the power of cooking with quality ingredients and stayed committed to the dream of providing those ingredients to the American market.
Mr. Lee then chose to restructure and rebrand the business. He refocused his effort and launched the Happy Buddha (Sunlee) brand and focused on the importing of Thai Premium Quality Jasmine Rice. This proved to be a risk that paid off. Rice is the cornerstone of Asian cuisines; it is eaten with every meal. By focusing on this delicate and familiar aspect of every meal, Mr. Lee began to shape his company with the same values he had in his own family: providing nutritious and quality ingredients that bring meals, and families together.
After passing away in 1993, the family values that were at the foundation of the Sun Lee group took on new life in a new generation. All five of his children have come together to manage and continue on their father’s legacy of providing quality ingredients that translate into quality dishes. The expanded Sun Lee group believe that in order to cook the best dishes, their customers should have access to the best ingredients. The company has continued to develop under the Sun Lee Brand. This includes new cooking ingredients and an even deeper commitment to help those in both the US and other globals markets to “Cook with Best Ingredients.”
Currently Sun Lee Inc is considered one of the largest Asian food importer and distributor in the United States, yet Sun Lee is still anchored by its family centered business philosophy and its core product: Happy Buddha (Sunlee) brand Jasmine Rice. Sam Lee, son of Johnny Lee proudly states, “It is an honor to grow and expand our family business. We are committed to our customers and will always strive to bring them premium quality products. That is the real foundation to our success.”
In the coming years, Sun Lee Inc is focusing on the future. As the Asian Food Market continues to grow, and even more people are bringing the flavors and ingredients of Asian food into their own homes, Sun Lee Inc will be expanding distribution throughout the United States. This includes a new distribution center in the Tacoma/Seattle area. Sun Lee is also working to make a more direct and sustainable future in their products. The Tacoma/Seattle warehouse scheduled to open in 2020 will expand not only the distribution of Sun Lee products, but will
also allow for another, more direct relationship between quality ingredients and Sun Lee customers.
As Sun Lee works to move this family business into a nationally recognized brand, the commitment to the family values carries into the corporate expansion. This expansion and diversification of the compy allows Sun Lee to cover the West Coast and to bring new generations of families around the dinner table to enjoy the taste of authentic Asian cuisine.