Zechariah Ha has built his restaurant from the ground up.
From designing and constructing the interior and wooden furniture to developing original chicken wing flavors, it's clear he doesn't mind hard work.
Ha opened Zacks Wings & Seafood at 3355 Deans Bridge Road in south Augusta four months ago, after operating a similar business in Atlanta. He has seven employees.
"I'm planning on opening three or four more locations," Ha said.
The menu includes chicken wings, hamburgers, fried rice, grilled subs, chicken tenders and seafood.
Ha said he has discovered new flavors by combining different sauces and ingredients -- and eating lots of chicken wings. Over the years, he has visited numerous restaurants and tried every chicken wing he could find. Today, his restaurant has 30 wing flavors, Ha said.
"I like making and selling food. I like developing new flavors. For 31/2 or four years, almost every day I would find a new product and test it," Ha said.
Ha also operates Carmel Printing & Design, where he designs cards, flyers, catalogs, magazines and posters.
When he moved to Augusta a year ago, Ha started publishing the Korean language newspaper Augusta Today . He writes, designs and prints eight issues a year.
"I'm motivated to give some good information to Korean people because they have a language barrier," Ha said.
Ha also serves as an associate pastor at Augusta Methodist Korean Church.
Kimberly Lindsey of Augusta has been a regular customer at Zacks Wings & Seafood since she first visited it two months ago. Her favorite flavors are honey lemon pepper and hot lemon pepper. The wings are better than those at major franchise restaurants, she said.
"I'm a wing person. I love chicken wings. He's got the best wings to me," Lindsey said.
Chris Battle of south Augusta has been a regular customer since the restaurant opened. A chef by training, Battle enjoys the "good, quality food," and his goal is to try all 30 flavors of wings on the menu. So far, he's halfway through.
"They've got a good variety of stuff," Battle said. "I'm a food critic. If it's not good, I tend not to go there."
Before Ha moved to the U.S. with his wife, So, about 13 years ago, he held several jobs in South Korea. He worked as a police officer, and after earning his bachelor's degree in computer science, he became an administrator for the computer department at one of South Korea's largest hospitals.
When Ha came to the United States, he enrolled at Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City. He graduated with a master of divinity degree.
During his studies, Ha worked to support his family. He held cleaning jobs at night until 2 or 3 a.m. and attended classes during the day.
"It was hard because my wife had had a baby," Ha said.
To pay his tuition, he sold his car and wedding ring. After graduation, Ha began preaching at an Atlanta church to fill in for the senior pastor, who was recuperating from surgery.
"I was preaching eight or nine times every week," Ha said.
Real estate success
In 2005, Ha started helping his church with a real estate project. He wasn't able to earn enough money as an assistant pastor to support his family, so he decided to get his insurance and real estate licenses.
Ha didn't have any sales during the first year, but things picked up. He decided to open his own commercial real estate business, Georgia Investment Group, and had six agents working for him. He became so successful at selling commercial property that veterans in the business began seeking him for advice and offering to work for him.
In one instance, Ha closed on the same piece of property twice in the same day.
"I got commission twice," he said.
World of wings
As the nation entered the recession, the real estate market began to slow down.
Around this time, one of Ha's church members wanted to open a restaurant franchise for a chicken wing business, but she needed a co-signer. Ha agreed to assist her, though he wasn't familiar with what co-signing meant because the term wasn't used in South Korea.
When he realized his friend wasn't a strong business owner, Ha said, he stepped in to run the restaurant.
Under Ha's leadership, the business landed first place in a wing competition in Marietta, where it competed against Hooters and other major franchises. Ha sold 1,500 wings in four hours, which gave him the confidence to know he could make it on his own, he said.
Ha sold that restaurant and started looking around Atlanta for a location to open his own business, but the market was too saturated, he said. He had a dream that told him to move to Augusta.
"When I moved here, I was very happy. This is better than Atlanta," Ha said.
Ha volunteers at a local soup kitchen and Golden Harvest Food Bank. His ultimate goal is to purchase 100 acres of land to provide shelter for the homeless and to cultivate food, he said.
"I want to spend the rest of my life doing something meaningful, supporting other people and my family," Ha said.