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Josh Ma

Episode 122

Do Something Hard & Creative Answer: Wagyu

Joshua Ma is from Monterey Park. He attended St. Thomas Aquinas Middle School and Don Bosco Tech for High School. For college, Josh attended UC Riverside and got a degree in accounting. It was a skill he wanted to learn but not one he enjoyed to pursue. He always valued his creativity and desire to express himself. He always had to look for a way to make something his own.

Having worked in accounting and banking, Josh desperately was looking for a way to keep his sanity alive, so he took up photography around 2017. This would lead him to discover a new hobby and allow him to travel and see many live shows. When the pandemic hit, most of the live shows got canceled; thus, he had no more work.

At that time, Josh was working at his family business, a food distribution service. He had the idea of offering wagyu since most restaurants were closed during that period, and many people were left bored at home cooking for themselves. In 2020, Ligma Provisions was born. It was Josh’s way to create his own brand with his spin and creative direction. The biggest challenge being the meat… how would he make this fun and expressive? So Josh turned his photo skills toward creating his own content and giving his brand personality. Josh went from posting on his personal Facebook to eventually creating a brand page, joining SGV Eats, and connecting with the local community to become their source for Wagyu. In late 2021, Josh launched his online store and started to service restaurant accounts.

Today, Josh is shipping all across the country, telling his story, creating a fun brand, and it was all made possible by the support of the SGV.

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Josh Ma Quotes

  • “Initially, my major was marketing, and when I went to marketing, I saw a lot of people there. For some reason, I was like, I can’t have this many people doing what I’m doing. I need something harder that no one wants to do. So, I did accounting, which was not a great idea. That’s the only reason I did it, with aspirations of joining the Big Four accounting firm.”
  • “I felt like I had everything. You have the Arcadia Mall and the Montebello Mall, not to mention all the food options. You don’t have to go anywhere. So this is like my little bubble that I grew up in.”
  • “It’s something that I can say that it belongs to me. I struggle through this. I did it. If you can do it, that’s cool, but I gravitate towards the fact that not many people can.”
  • “I’m looking at this huge loin. It was $1,000. What am I going to do?”
  • Josh Ma was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. He grew up in Monterey Park, went to high school in Rosemead, and has spent most of his adult life in the SGV.
  • After finishing college with a degree in accounting, Josh worked in corporate accounting and at Enterprise Rental Car. However, he found that these paths weren’t fulfilling for him in the long run.
  • Josh is drawn to challenges and strives for accomplishments that set him apart. He pursued accounting because he wanted something difficult that only a few people wanted to do. He seeks to achieve things that feel uniquely his own.
  • In response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Josh launched Ligma Provisions. This venture focused on providing high-quality Wagyu beef to individuals and restaurants. He turned this into a successful business through creativity, determination, and effective marketing.

WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY?

I was born and raised here. I grew up in Monterey Park and went to high school in Rosemead. And I spent most of my adult life here. My first job after college was in Monterey Park.

I spend most of my time here. When people always mention the Valley, or when I hear about the Valley on the news, I’m like, oh, that’s San Gabriel Valley. But then they talk about this other valley. I’m like, what is that place? Even today, that’s a foreign area for me because there’s so much going on here in the San Gabriel Valley.

Josh Ma LIGMA Provisions

ARE YOU OF CHINESE DESCENT?

Yes. I’m of Chinese descent, but my family was in South China. They had to flee the Communist war to Vietnam. Then they had to flee the war.

THEY WENT FROM CHINA IN THE 40S OR 50S TO VIETNAM, AND THEN AFTER 1975, CAME HERE?

Yes. My father came here around 75 or something like that.

DID YOUR PARENTS SHARE THOSE STORIES WITH YOU?

They did. Sometimes, I don’t know if they’re made up or not to make me wake up early for school. They’d be like, we swam to America. We had to walk to America. 

WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE GROWING UP?

It was fun. It was relaxing. Most of my friends were Hispanic and Mexican growing up, so I would always hang out with them. 

I would do Little League baseball and intramural basketball with them. I spent a lot of time here hanging out with them and exploring the Asian and Latin cultures. So it was fun for me growing up; it was just a melting pot. I felt like I had everything. You have the Arcadia Mall and the Montebello Mall, not to mention all the food options. You don’t have to go anywhere. So this is like my little bubble that I grew up in.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL FOR YOU?

After high school, I went to UC Riverside. I was there for four years. I studied accounting.

BECAUSE YOUR PARENTS WANTED YOU TO STUDY THAT?

I guess I like to struggle a lot. I have a problem with that. Initially, my major was marketing, and when I went to marketing, I saw that there were a lot of people in there, and for some reason, I was like, I can’t have this many people doing what I’m doing, and I need something harder that no one wants to do.

So I did accounting, which is not a great idea, but accounting is a great skill to have. That’s the only reason why I did it. With aspirations of joining the Big Four accounting firms. Which after college, I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted to do. 

My first job was at Enterprise Rental Car here in Monterey Park. I was doing a lot of sales. I was number one in sales back-to-back for a few months. And then I said, let’s try accounting, and I did corporate accounting for them. And then I realized that it was not for me.

YOU LIKED TO DO HARD THINGS. DO YOU KNOW WHERE THAT CAME FROM? HOW DID THAT COME TO BE IN YOUR LIFE? BECAUSE THAT’S NOT A NATURAL THING.

It isn’t. Anyone can pick a low-hanging fruit and take whatever is yours. And I want something that if you take what’s mine, at least it’s a real challenge. Right? It’s something that I can say that it belongs to me. I struggle through this. I did it. If you can do it, that’s cool, but I gravitate towards the fact that not many people can.

SO ENTERPRISE WASN’T FOR YOU?

No. Enterprise taught me everything I needed to know about business, to be honest with you. But their approach to customers wasn’t always empathetic, so I felt distraught about it. 

So I went into accounting, and then I wasn’t feeling the corporate accounting scene and wanted to leave that place. And I struggled with that. I had a little quarter-life crisis. When you’re in your early 20s, thinking you want to have a fun job. Then you realize that you have to pay bills. Then, you start questioning things.

So, I was at that point where I was questioning how I could express myself and have a job that paid the bills. I was caught between a rock and a hard place.

HOW DID YOUR PARENTS INFLUENCE YOU? WERE THEY IN BUSINESS, OR DID THEY DO SOMETHING SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU’RE DOING?

My father was a really good businessperson. He really cut his chops doing insurance sales. That really hardened his skin. He’s a well-spoken person. And to back up a little bit, when my family came here, they put all their money together and had this pharmacy in Chinatown. 

Then, when that did well, they sold it off. They put their money together again and bought this food manufacturing company in Vernon, where they made egg rolls and things of that nature. 

Then, my father expanded that business to do a little bit of food service, and fast forward to today, I added a different avenue to that, a different division that I control. And I learned a lot of things from him about business, about having a good business mind. 

DID YOU GO WORK WITH YOUR FAMILY AFTER YOU LEFT CORPORATE ACCOUNTING?

Not right away. Ironically enough, I said, let’s try marketing again. So then I was doing social media marketing for this denim company as an intern. Then, I went into mortgage banking. Then, I was going to become a loan officer. We were doing loans for celebrities and actors and stuff like that. And this was around the time when the mortgage rates were about to go up.

Everyone was struggling, and my father said, “You should come and work for me.” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that, but I said, okay, let me see what I can do with you. And I did, and it was a big struggle. I regretted it for a very long time because he’s a tough cookie.

DO YOU STILL WORK WITH HIM?

Yes, we still work together. It’s better, but he comes from a school of hard knocks. There’s no pleasing that guy.

WERE YOU SURPRISED TO SEE THIS OTHER SIDE OF YOUR FATHER WHEN YOU JOINED HIS BUSINESS?

I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

EVEN THOUGH YOU WEREN’T ENJOYING IT, YOU STILL STUCK IT OUT?

Yeah. I was going through a dark time because I was around 25 or 26, and I didn’t have anything that felt like it was mine. Around this time, I was hanging out with one of my friends who does photography, and then we started doing photography. He would go to downtown LA, and we would climb buildings and get in trouble, get kicked out, and we would go to concerts and take photos. And I felt alive from doing that.  

We would sneak into festivals like Coachella just to take photos and share them with people to see their reactions. It really made me happy, so I started doing more photography then. 

I was working with my father, and I was contemplating leaving, doing production work, photography work to become a studio photographer. It wasn’t until COVID happened that Ligma came to fruition.

DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS IDEA DURING THAT TIME, OR HAD YOU BEEN THINKING ABOUT IT BEFORE?

I had never thought about it. It just happened, the whole meat thing. My family business doesn’t do these retail operations. We provide bulk meats to people like Restaurant Depot. And they can cut it themselves for restaurants. 

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR LIGMA COME ABOUT?

It was my 30th birthday at an Airbnb in Silver Lake, and then I wanted to treat my friends, so we had a pizza party. I also brought in some wagyu. This is the first time I had Australian Wagyu. And I was just having it for my friends; they all loved it and still talk about it to this day. 

It was just a special occasion thing. When COVID happened, all the restaurants and fine dining shut down. You couldn’t go out to eat, and you couldn’t go anywhere. 

Everyone was stuck at home and bored. Then one of my friends suggested that I should try offering this to people because people can cook what they want at home, they can’t go out. 

I was very submissive about it. I didn’t want to do it because it was very expensive, and I wasn’t very confident that I could sell the product.

WHAT IS WAGYU?

Wagyu means Japanese cattle. It’s a breed of cow from Japan. What’s special about this specific breed is that there is a lot of fat inside of the muscle as opposed to on traditional cows or cattle. 

It has more marbling or fat on the inside. And the more marbling a steak has, the more tender, the more juicy, and the more flavor it has because fat is flavor. From there, we have Australian Wagyu and American Wagyu, which is a cross-breed. 

They take the Wagyu, and they cross-breed it with the Angus or whichever breed of cattle is available to them. You have a 50-50 mix. And you can go further. You can get that 50-50 mix and mix it again with the purebred, and you can get a higher percentage of Wagyu genetics. 

BUT THERE AREN’T ANY PRODUCERS HERE IN THE STATES MAKING A FIVE MIYAZAKI STYLE OR QUALITY WAGYU?

No, that’d be impossible. It would be impossible only because a five is the grading system in Japan, and they do things differently there. However, some ranches have a full-blood Japanese cow here, but it does not come out the same way. In my opinion, the American Wagyu product still has a long way to go because each ranch does it its own way. 

In Australia, they follow guidelines and a feed plan, and it’s very scientific over there, so they yield a much more consistent product.

HOW LONG HAS WAGYU BEEN POPULAR? 

It’s still new here but has been around for a long time. I think that it was first imported here in the 90s or earlier. 

WHY ARE HIGHER-FAT MEATS MORE EXPENSIVE AND THE LEANER MEATS ARE CHEAPER?

Well, it brings up the preconceived notion of the word fat. People don’t like fat; they don’t want to be fat or eat fat. They have a hard time understanding that fat is actually flavor. And I try to tell people that you want your meat to have some fat in it in order to taste good. And sometimes, they don’t understand that, so I offer a grass-fed product, which is typically leaner, but it’s a healthier alternative to them.

ARE YOU A BIG MEAT EATER?

I am a big beef eater. I have to know my product, and I have to know it well. 

YOU LOOK VERY FIT, TOO.

I put a lot of emphasis on my health, so I like to work out quite often.

SO THE PANDEMIC HITS AND YOUR FRIENDS TELL YOU TO DO THIS; WHERE DOES IT GO FROM THERE?

It gets shelved for a while because it’s so expensive. I’m at the point where I wonder if the people I know will receive this well. My friend kept bugging me and told me that he would make my sale for me.

So I went ahead and purchased the Japanese A Five and took it back to my place. I remember when I arrived, I was like, oh, my God, there’s no turning back now. I’m looking at this huge loin. It was $1,000. What am I going to do? 

Mind you, I didn’t know how to cut it properly at the time, so I had it open, and I just said, the cat is out of the bag. We’re selling this now.

It took me some time to figure out how to cut it. Eventually, I portioned them into steaks. And I posted on my Facebook, said, “Hey, everyone, you know, restaurants are closed. I have Japanese Wagyu for sale for a good price, and it’s going to be really good. If you guys want any, just please let me know.”

The comments on one of my posts went off. They went viral. It was better than I thought. I had people picking it up from my house. It was spreading. Then I went on YouTube, and I looked up every possible way that it could be cut properly, how it’s served, and how people enjoy it because I don’t want to ruin it because it’s a big price to pay.

Then, I did it again on my personal Facebook page. It came to a point where I didn’t want to be that person who’s like, oh, there goes Josh again, jumping on a soapbox on his Facebook, just trying to advertise something. So I don’t want to be that guy. And that is when the Ligma brand was born.

WERE YOU DEALING ONLY WAGYU BEEF?

Yes. My whole goal was to supply the best quality that I could. 

HOW DID YOU KNOW WHERE TO FIND IT?

There’s a small circle in the meat distribution world. There are very few players who are at the top that can import and bring things in. So I already had the connections. I already knew where to look.

DID IT MEET YOUR STANDARD OF BEING HARD?

Yes, it met my standard of being hard because I didn’t know if I would succeed. But it also met my standard of having a product that people want, having something that people need. Because if I backtracked to when I was doing photography, what made me so happy about it was that I provided something for people they wanted. I didn’t have to get on my knees and beg them to accept. 

WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?

I sell a lot online for e-commerce. I have a few restaurants that carry the products that I source. I am at Alhambra’s Farmers Market, which I opened up shortly after I had my Facebook page because, during that time, when I made my page, there was this group on Facebook called SGV Eats, and that page helped me grow tremendously. 

During COVID, Alhambra’s Farmers Market is where I would meet all my customers, and I’d tell them where I’d be and what I would have. I’ll have specials, Thanksgiving specials, and maybe a once-a-month special. I’ll also meet customers at the parking lot of Sprouts on Main Street in Alhambra.

A lot of customers who have been with me since day one, I still talk to them because they’ve been loyal to me. We have built a friendship. They’ll text me, they’ll call me.

ARE PEOPLE BUYING HIGH-END MEATS AT FARMERS MARKETS?

Now they are. We got the word out. My first year was last year, and people didn’t know we were there. We had to tell people. People would walk by us. They didn’t realize that they had a meat vendor there. Now people come to see us, which feels great.

WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE FOR LIGMA PROVISIONS?

Yes, I want to expand the product line and add more products and different items for the customers. Not just Wagyu, maybe some duck, some pork, some high-end items. And I would like to expand and offer my products to more restaurants. Part of what makes me happy is being able to be a part of a restaurant’s story and supporting them.

 

JOSH MA’S SGV III

  1. The Arboretum in Arcadia. It’s just an otherworldly place. 
  2. The Rose Bowl: I’ve gone to many concerts there. I go to the flea market there and do my thrift shopping there. I have a lot of good memories at the Rose Bowl. It’s a beautiful place.
  3. The Ice House Comedy Club: I always had a thought in the back of my mind that I wanted to do stand-up comedy. I just love the show, the act, and having a place with such a small-town vibe. But that brings in international talent.

 

IF SOMEONE WANTS TO GET A HOLD OF YOU, WHAT’S THE BEST WAY FOR THEM TO DO THAT?

They can shoot us a message on our Instagram page, @ligmaprovisions, shoot us an email at info@ligmaprovisions.com, or go to the website, ligmaprovisions.com, and click contact us.

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Josh Ma

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