Lawrence Woo – Waypoint Church and Building Businesses for the Good of the Community

President-elect Todd Taylor began his introduction of Monday’s speaker with his usual flair, promising attendees “some really fine preachin’” from Lawrence Yoo, pastor of Waypoint Church in Chapel Hill. Actually, we have the indispensable Sharon Lassiter to thank for the program, as she is a member of Yoo’s congregation, and thought her minister could share a message and a mission that would resonate with Rotarians.

When Yoo took the microphone, he promised “not to throw too many Bibles today,” quickly captivating listeners with his broad grin and infectious enthusiasm. He related stories of how his and many other Asian families immigrated to the United States, bringing with them a strong history of entrepreneurship. “In the church, we found the perfect intersection of culture and community,” he says, “and worked to combine our money, our ideas, and our energy to find creative ways to make an impact: in effect, sharing responsibility for building businesses for the good of the community.”

He cited an example of an associate whose investments suddenly paid off, finding himself flush with cash. The man invested into housing units, renting them to immigrants, refugees, and justice-involved individuals for as much as 25 percent below market value. The homes are safe and well-maintained, unlike much “affordable housing.” Tenants are provided with mentors, who help guide them in pursuit of safe and secure life choices and building financial equity. “These are people who want jobs and a chance to improve themselves,” Yoo emphasizes. “They are ready and willing to work hard.”

Yoo’s point was that his colleague could have easily re-invested the money into the stock market or other less-risky real estate ventures, choosing instead to “do well by doing good.” Now he’s benefitting several dozen families, not just himself.

Wanting to make his own impact on the area, Yoo has opened Sushioki near RTP, a restaurant that’s “Fun. Fast. Fresh. With a purpose.” (www.sushiokirtp.com). According to Yoo, they serve “Chipotle-style burrito hand rolls” – twice the size of typical sushi hand rolls – with ingredients such as tempura, poke tuna, kimchi slaw, avocado, and much more.

The unique spin on the restaurant’s business plan is that Sushioki partners with global organizations such as World Relief to hire area refugees seeking an employer that offers all employees dignity, respect, and a livable wage. “Low wages equal low performance,” Yoo says. “Therefore, workers are always looking for something better. By paying our employees competitive wages and offering opportunities for advancement, our turnover – in an industry that is known for high turnover – has been virtually zero.”

Yoo’s enthusiasm really amps up when he talks about opportunities for supporting entrepreneurship in our community. He spoke of his childhood love and respect for the Samurai warrior, and how their code of excellence and loyalty have a place in modern-day business practices. “Today’s millennials love the concept of purpose. Not just making money, but leaving a lasting legacy,” he says. “Why can’t we revive that passion and enthusiasm, that desire for greatness that made America a paragon of business excellence?”

He closed his comments by challenging his audience, saying “We have entrepreneurs that have great ideas but no business experience, no capital for start-up, no connections. But as a community we can offer those things. Leverage what you have. Take a risk! Invest in the community. Invest in someone else’s dreams. Remember YOLO: You only live once.”

Submitted by:
Carver C. Weaver

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