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Andrew Lee

Episode 142

Pro Golfer turning to Chili

Andrew Lee was born and raised in Monterey Park. At the age of 6 he started playing golf. He became a pro golfer in 2010 and taught golf for over 15 years. In the past few years Andrew has retired from golf to pursue Zindrew, his chili oil business that he began as a surprise for his wife.

Andrew is an entrepreneur at heart having started several businesses throughout the years. Some of those businesses include frying calamari, ice cream in donuts, and a wedding photobooth. After an injury to his wrist, Andrew retired from his golf career and put his focus on growing Zindrew. Now his chili oil can be found in several local shops and restaurants around the San Gabriel Valley, as well as shipping nationwide.

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Andrew Lee Quotes

  • “The epiphany of, ‘Am I going to do this for the rest of my life?’ happened pretty early in my golf career because I’m standing in the hot sun for 8 hours a day. So I was like, am I going to do this for the rest of my life? Am I going to do this for another 30 or 40 years? And I didn’t want that for myself.”
  • “After college, I played in the Southern California PGA. I was part of the SoCal PGA program. They train you how to run a golf course and to teach golf. And during that time, there was a lot of pro tournaments. So I decided to join and started playing.”
  • “I still play tournaments here and there, and I have a tournament every year at Pebble Beach. So last year at Pebble Beach, I shot 68.”
  • “A few of my students started with me as junior golfers and got scholarships and full rides to colleges to play golf.”

From professional golfer to small business owner Andrew Lee has had an interesting career.  He started playing golf at a very young age and showed immense talent, playing in tournaments around the world as a junior golfer. 

He played golf professionally as part of the Southern California PGA program, while also working at a golf course and teaching golf lessons. Though he had the talent, he decided not to try to qualify for the PGA tour due to the expenses and time commitment required. 

Seeking additional income streams beyond golf, Lee started several small businesses over the years, including a food booth called Cali Calamari, square donut ice cream sandwiches, and a photo booth company. 

His latest business venture, Zindrew Chili Oil, started by accident when he began experimenting with chili oil recipes for his wife. The business took off rapidly, especially during COVID, as Lee delivered orders himself, and sold it from the parking lot of his cousin’s Tire Central. Zindrew chili oil is now sold online, and in retail stores (including one in Nashville, Tennessee)across the country.

Are you a chili head? Do you pursue hotter and hotter stuff?

After meeting my wife, yes, the spiciest thing I ate was probably using Sriracha sauce on my food. I would crave spicy in my meals, but I didn’t necessarily need it. However, my wife, Zin, and her family are from Burma, Myanmar, and they love spicy food. So, for every meal, there has to be some sort of spice. So I built up my tolerance a little bit, but I still can’t match what she can eat.


Does she laugh at your Sriracha? Some people refer to it like ketchup.

Yeah, we used to call it Chinese ketchup. That’s what we use instead of ketchup at a lot of the restaurants. But I remember when I was younger, I tried to build up my tolerance by eating pho and seeing how much Sriracha I could put in my soup. I have had plenty of painful experiences, but I know my limit nowadays.


What is your connection to the San Gabriel Valley?

I was born and raised here. My parents moved here from Taiwan before I was born. So they had me here, went to Brightwood, and then high school went to Mark Keppel. I just love it here.


You were a professional golfer?

Yeah. I’ve played golf for over 30 years now. My dad started off playing recreationally, and I just tagged along. 


When I was about six, I remember the first ball I hit was at the Monterey Park golf range. At that time, they had grass, so you could hit off the grass. And I think my career started as a golfer because people watched me hit balls as a six-year-old, and they’re like, hey, this kid might have some talent. My dad pursued it, and I got golf lessons, and then eventually, he signed me up for junior golf. I played in tons of tournaments and traveled all around the world playing golf, and it took off from there.


You played as a pro?

Yes. After college, I played in the Southern California PGA. I was part of the SoCal PGA program. They train you how to run a golf course and to teach golf. And during that time, there was a lot of pro tournaments. So I decided to join and started playing. However, the whole time I was playing pro, I was also working at a golf course and teaching at the same time.


What course were you working out of?

I worked at Alhambra Golf Course. During that time, I worked in the shop, and then I taught golf on the side during my off hours.


Did you qualify for the tour?

I never actually tried to qualify for the tour, only because during that time, I was already working. In order to play on tour, you have to go through the Q school, which is more of a qualifying circuit, which is number one, very expensive, and number two, you have to dedicate 100% of your time practicing, playing, and traveling. 

So there was a decision to be made. I would have and could have if I had a monetary sponsor to back me up, or I could work and make money and try to build a career that was a little bit more stable. So, I chose to stay back, work at the shop, pursue a golf career, and then make money through teaching golf. But like I said, I was playing on the smaller tours, making minimal money playing golf but making more money teaching golf. So I played tournaments until I hurt my wrist getting ready for a big tournament.

That’s when I decided to retire from professional golf and then basically teach golf from then on. 

To answer your question, playing on the PGA is not very easy because you need a lot of money and a lot of time.


Do you play other sports or was golf your big thing?

I played other sports like basketball and football, just for fun. But I really wanted to play football at Mark Keppel because all my other friends were playing football. 

However, my golf coach did not let me and convinced my dad not to let me either. It was crazy because in 8th grade, I was playing a lot of tournaments as a junior golfer, and I think Mark Keppel’s coach at that time was Anthony Samita. He had his eyes on me and was looking forward to me playing as a freshman. I was actually team captain as a freshman. 


So you were a pretty good player when you were younger?

Yes, I played off the blue tees when I was 14 or 15 years old. At that time, I was shooting a three-under-par average.


What would you shoot if you went out today?

I still play tournaments here and there, and I have a tournament every year at Pebble Beach. So last year at Pebble Beach, I shot 68. 

But with the whole chili business growing, I don’t have time to play or practice. So when the tournament comes up, I take about two weeks to start practicing, and then I’ll get my touch back. 


Do you regret the path you choose?

No, I don’t. Golf has always been my career. I played golf, and I went to the San Diego Golf Academy. There I learned how to teach golf. I taught golf for about 14 years and got pretty good at teaching it. 

A few of my students started as junior golfers and got scholarships and full rides to colleges to play golf. So I’m proud of that.

I don’t regret playing golf or teaching golf at all. That’s always been my bread and butter. However, after working at the golf course and teaching golf, I realized that my income would always be capped because I’m the one teaching golf. I can only stand there for 8 hours a day, and even if I raise my tuition prices, it will always be capped some sort. 

So, even working at the golf course, I started many small businesses during that time. For example, the first business I started was called Cali Calamari.

I got together with a couple of friends and started a food booth at the 626 Night Market and called ourselves Cali Calamari. 

It was great. We had long lines, and it was successful. However, everyone had full-time jobs preparing the calamari, preparing the squid, and the sauces. It was just way too much work.

Unless we thought of a streamlined way to prepare the food, we couldn’t continue. So, I stopped doing that after the first year. Then, I created square donut ice cream sandwiches. So I had a booth at the night market as well, doing that.


Can you tell us about the ice cream sandwich business?

It was called Square Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches. Our glazed donuts were square, which is unique because most donuts are round. Then, we would cut the donut in half, put ice cream in there, and put toppings on top. 

We had fresh mangoes on top with condensed milk or fresh strawberries for our ice cream sandwich donuts. It was really good.


You went back to the night market with this concept?

Yeah, exactly. So, like I said, I always wanted to start my own business. I tried a lot of different businesses. That was one of them. This time, I’m like, how do I make it a little bit easier on myself?


How did the ice cream business go?

It went well. So, after a year and a half of pursuing and promoting, we stopped it and I went back to teaching golf. But keep in mind that I was starting different businesses throughout this whole time. I was working full-time at the golf shop, too. My boss at that time wasn’t too happy because all the night markets were on weekends. I saved up all my vacation days, and I applied for my vacation days to attend the night markets. 

One of the reasons I stopped Square was that, one year, I applied for vacation days before the summertime, and he denied all of them. I was heartbroken.

“How am I going to continue with this business if I can’t get days off?” So, I decided to stop the ice cream business, work at the course full-time, and teach golf. 

It was insane because, at the time, teaching golf was on my off hours from the shop. So I worked 32 hours in the shop, and then I worked another 40 hours teaching golf. 

That took up pretty much seven days a week full-time. Then, the next thing I got into was a photo booth business. My friend and I started a photo booth, and we just did weddings. And that was more manageable because, at most weddings, we had to go set up at around 06:00 p.m. or 05:00 p.m., which was on my days off. I would schedule my golf lessons in the morning. I would be off at 3:00, and then we would get ready to set up for the events that we had planned.


Did you go into golf right after high school?

Right after high school, I went to the Golf Academy of America, which was a two-year program.

Then, I went to college in Maryland for four years.

Andrew Lee created chili oil for his wife and started Zindrew Chili Oil from there

How did you get into chili oil?

So, the chili oil business happened all by accident. 

This is the story of how we started the chili business. Just one day at home, my wife complained to me that she couldn’t find any good chili oils out there because, like I said, she uses chili oil on every meal she eats. So we would use supermarket chili oils that we can find at the time. 

There weren’t that many small-batch chili oils at the time. So, all the ones you could find were in the Chinese markets. There were a lot of traditional flavor chili oils that were available, but she didn’t really enjoy them as much.

She used it to get that spice out of the chili oil. So, one day, I bought the ingredients: garlic, chili flakes, and oil. Then, I just started playing around with my own recipe, just putting stuff together, and finally came up with the recipe that we stuck with, the OG batch, which is the original one I made. And she loved it. She was like, I’ve never had this kind of flavor before. 


This was all your idea? Your wife didn’t help?

Yeah, she was at work when I made it, and I surprised her with this chili oil. She ate it when she got home, and she’s like, wow, this is so good. So next thing you know, we have little reused sauce packets and sauce cups that we put the chili oil in and gave to some friends and family. 

Then, two weeks later, on our personal Instagram page, people were messaging us like, hey, can we get some of that chili oil? So, I started packaging it and giving it to my friends, but we kept getting more orders. I said we can’t keep making these chili oils and giving them out for free. That’s when I decided to start the business. 

Then Covid hit, and that’s when our business started to grow. People at home couldn’t go to the market, so they ordered chili oil from me. And at that time, I was delivering it house to house. 

It would take about nine hours to make the chili oil at home. Then we had to jar it up and package it, and it would take me another four to five hours to deliver it.

So, we had to upgrade and have a bigger setup. So I went to my parent’s house and bought bigger woks. 

Then it got to the point where I couldn’t deliver house to house anymore because there were too many orders. So, I decided to sell my chili oil on the side of the street. 

So, on Instagram, I posted that we weren’t taking orders anymore. Instead, we’d be going to a specific location at a certain time. The first location I actually parked at was out by the O’Reilly’s on Las Tunas and San Gabriel.

I had my trunk open, and people lined up to buy my chili oil.

While I was selling, the police pulled up, siren and all, to see what I was selling. They told me I had to get a permit to sell on the street, but there weren’t any permits that would allow me to do that. 

So, my cousin owns Tire Central in San Gabriel. He has a nice parking lot, and it’s gated, and he let me sell our chili oil there. 


How do you sell it now?

Now people can order from our website. We’re also on Amazon, so anybody in the US can buy from Amazon as well. And there are about 50 retail stores that carry our products. 


Where do you make Zindrew chili oil?

So, our manufacturer, factory, and warehouse are in El Monte. One of the craziest ones was a store from Nashville, Tennessee that contacted me and said, “We want your chili oil in our store.” 

I’m sure there’s not much Asian influence in Nashville, so I was pretty happy. We sent a pallet to them, and then it sold out really quickly, and they ordered a second pallet.

So our stuff is in Nashville, Chicago. We haven’t quite gone to the East Coast yet, but hopefully, we will soon.


How did you come up with the name?

So Zin is my wife’s name, and I’m Andrew. So all of our friends, even before we started this business, would call us Zindrew as a couple’s name since this was made for her and made by me. So, I just called it Zindrew chili oil.


What’s the future of Zindrew?

We want to focus more on wholesaling our chili oil. So, we’re working with a distributor right now. Hopefully, we’ll be in some of the bigger markets soon. We’re going to continue selling on Amazon, and we’re doing a lot of night markets for the chili oil business as well.


Are you using a display or selling it yourself?

I’m selling it myself. I love meeting our customers face-to-face and getting to talk to them. But the reason why I’m there also is to spread the word on what chili oil is. 

You can put it on anything from pizza to burgers. We make pasta sauce with this all the time. People even put this on ice cream. 


Thank you so much for joining us Andrew. Can you tell our listeners can find Zindrew Chili Oil?

Sure. You can visit our website, You can order everything that we offer online. And if you spend $50 or more, you get free shipping. We even ship to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and anywhere in the US. We’re also on Amazon, and our website has a list of stores that carry our products. So, if you don’t want to pay for shipping, you can look for a store near you and pick it up there.

Picture of Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Tire Central: That’s where I started my business. But even before that, it’s a great place to get your tires. The prices are always good, and the service is impeccable. It’s on Broadway and San Gabriel Boulevard.

Mien Tay Restaurant: It’s a Pho shop in El Monte, and the first time I went there, I sat down, and thirty seconds later, food was coming out. You don’t even order; the owner picks your food for you.

Yama Seafood: It’s on Las Tunas and Mission by the Jack in the Box and the Thai restaurant. They have two shops, and they both carry Zindrew Chili. Yeah.