Member Spotlight: Charlie Zhang
Orange County, CA - December 21 - Between founding take-out restaurant Pick Up Stix, Aseptic Solutions USA, Zion Enterprises, being recognized as an Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient, and participating in his community by sitting on the Board of Directors for the Pacific Symphony, Advisory Board of Chapman University’s School of Business, Concordia University, and La Sierra University, as well as sitting on the board of the Nixon Foundation, Charlie Zhang has devoted his life to his passion for arts, culture, education, and giving back to the community he worked hard to become a part of.
In the 1980’s, Zhang made the decision to leave China and change the direction of his life. According to Zhang, he sought out the American Dream after reading magazines and literature that showcased the differences between life in America versus life in a Communist nation.
Zhang put in the work and the hours washing dishes and attending a gas station during his first few years in America. Eventually, he started raising his own family and founded popular Asian take-out chain Pick Up Stix which saw immediate, booming success.
“Little by little, day by day, and year by year I felt that this was the right place to be working,” Zhang explained, referencing his reverence for the systems our country had in place and the people who helped guide him to the right direction. “All things led me to believe that this is a great country. It’s a dream come true.”
Predicated on his guiding interests in giving back to the arts, Zhang was introduced to the Orange County Classical Academy (OCCA) by friend and fellow Lincoln Club member Honorable Al Frink. OCCA, Orange County’s only tuition-free, K-12 Classical Education charter school was launched in August 2020 after club members Dr. Jeff Barke and Mark Bucher tirelessly petitioned for the Orange Unified School District to allow the charter. Following research and tours to see OCCA firsthand and gather a deeper understanding of the teaching system, Zhang made the philanthropic decision to support the school in its mission to revitalize classical education.
“I felt that this is the right model,” Zhang expressed. “I felt that standing there was America’s next generation: beautifully, even-mixed and respectful through body language, smiles, attitudes, uniforms, all so well-polished and showing respect. I felt impressed.”
Despite his passion for models like OCCA, which he admitted is nurturing America’s next great generation, Zhang expressed how it has grown increasingly difficult to provide enriching classical education. The arts communities in particular, both in Orange County and more broadly nationwide have had to change their teaching models or shutter performances due to pandemic lockdowns.
In Zhang’s opinion, this has caused a lot of kids to miss out on a “strengthening of their soul” and that some may be missing a crucial balance of the different parts of their brains through creating and performing classical arts or music.
Orange County Classical Academy gives local students this opportunity for the best shot at being the brightest, young learners they can be. This shared mission is what had caused Zhang to co-found Orange County Music and Dance (OCMD), a nonprofit community performing arts school for instruction on instruments, voice, and dance for students ages 18-months to 18-years-old.
Zhang explained that a lot of what attracted him to founding OCMD was the need for great music programs offered to students regardless of their individual financial situations. At the school, there are ample scholarships offered with upwards of 50% of students being recipients of financial assistance.
“Music brought me discipline in my young life,” Zhang explained. “Continue seeking to be the best you that you can be, that’s the kind of mentality. I really feel that music can produce good kids and 100% of the students that we have had at OCMD graduate and go to college.”
The success of the students who have gone through OCMD’s programs ties back to a deeper belief that Zhang holds which is that the music arts “fill the bucket” for a person’s body, mind and soul. To Zhang, it had felt discouraging and difficult after nearly two years of concert halls being closed at the Pacific Symphony and the Pacific Chorale. According to Zhang, when they first opened back up, they only gained roughly 50-60% of attendance back. Things have been looking up, however, as the season has continued it has grown to around 70% and he believes it will improve.
“Human beings need the music arts,” said Zhang. “We need to be around people and shower each other with good, positive energy. It’s time to recover but we probably need a year to get back to where we were pre-pandemic.”
Many of Zhang’s philanthropic ventures harken back to his interests in classic arts and preserving traditional values. Zhang originally began attending a couple Lincoln Club events with his friends Hon. Al Frink and Dr. JoEllen Chatham, and eventually made the decision to join the club to be among many other entrepreneurs and businesspeople. He noted that while the club is a conservative organization, he does not see it as an “echo chamber”, rather that the club is a base of people that he can get along with, work with, and support a healthy community together.
While evaluating our nation’s momentary political divides between the left and the right, Zhang emphasized that his priority is instead his love for American culture and the music arts education.
“I’m really not looking to turn back,” Zhang began. “I’m here for freedom and for my American Dream! Eventually that dream could disappear, and how sad is that? That’s why we need to tie together, unite as great people. God is always there to protect our freedoms, great country, system, constitution and all the humans who love, care, and respect each other.”
Through his wide range of business ventures and philanthropic efforts, Zhang regularly interfaces with younger generations growing up in an environment where a reverence for traditional culture is discouraged and many kids show a lack of respect for their country. To these kids—and those who may be feeling jaded about the direction America is heading in—Zhang had a few words of encouragement:
“Don't look at what you're missing. Look at what you're getting. Do the right thing, continue to follow good examples, and be a great American.”
- Charlie Zhang