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Zhang Family Creates $1 Million Challenge Grant

Charlie & Ling Zhang

Charlie & Ling Zhang outside Grimm Hall

Charlie Zhang emigrated to the U.S. from China nearly forty years ago and pursued the American dream by starting a business. That business, the restaurant Pick Up Stix, revolutionized Chinese fast food and was the beginning of a number of successes for Zhang in businesses and real estate investing.

Recently,Charlie and wife Ling announced a $1 million challenge grant to support the construction of Concordia’s innovative new Borland-Manske Center.

“As an immigrant I came to this country with twenty dollars in my pocket and committed to one day give back,” Charlie says.

Zhang came from Shanghai and met Ling, from Taipei, Taiwan, in 1984 when somebody invited him to church.

“Ling brought me to the Lord on November 27, 1984,” he recalls. They were married in 1985 and have two sons, Joshua and Benjamin.

“From that point on, the Lord touched us and blessed our family,” Zhang says. “The Lord helped me very much in business. I believe you have to love people. That’s in the Bible. Care for each other, respect each other. You care for them and they will work hard.”

Pick Up Stix innovated the industry by updating the traditional Chinese restaurant experience with beautiful, modern décor, a kitchen and food ingredients visible to the customer, and knowledgeable staff who speak English fluently and can explain what’s on the menu.

Within a decade of creating Pick Up Stix, the chain had grown to more than one hundred locations. Zhang sold the business to TGI Fridays and then established Zion Enterprises, a real estate development company that has been involved in more than $200 million in commercial, retail and residential projects in the Western U.S.

“Everything I do, the Bible shows me the way to do the right thing,” Zhang says. “A lot of things I don’t know how to do, but church life and the Bible really give me the answers.”

As an immigrant I came to this country with twenty dollars in my pocket and committed to one day give back.

As music fans—Charlie plays the clarinet and Ling sings—the Zhangs are enthusiastic about supporting Concordia’s new Borland-Manske Center.

“We love education, art and music,” Charlie says. “Ling and I dedicated this gift to music. We can provide new generations of students this beautiful building which they can use for a long, long time. We love music and practice and recording, all the things they do.”

To encourage others to give generously to the project, the Zhangs agreed to match all new gifts dollar for dollar, up to $1 million, that were made or pledged prior to December 31, 2018.

“We want to give back and influence people to do the same,” Zhang says. “We have a lot of role models, and have seen a lot of people give back to make America a beautiful story, and to give to the Lord an offering. They are our role models and we want to follow their footsteps. That’s why we encourage other people to follow our footsteps and support this building.”

The Borland-Manske Center will provide 37,000 square feet of much needed space for students to learn and grow, using new practice rooms and performances halls, a state-of-the-art recording studio of the highest quality, and offices, libraries and meeting rooms for theology and music students and faculty. The two wings of the building will bring together the musical tradition and the theological foundation of the university’s Christian faith in spaces that serve students and the campus community, and impact the Church throughout the world for decades to come.

To date more than $25 million has been raised in cash and pledges toward a goal of $30 million.

The Zhangs have been supporters of Concordia University Irvine for some years. Charlie served as Concordia University Irvine’s first Entrepreneur in Residence, mentoring students in entrepreneurship. He also was involved with the Gala of Stars and serves on the dean’s advisory board for Concordia University’s School of Business. Zhang has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young and is a board member of the Pacific Symphony. Charlie and Ling were just named Outstanding Philanthropists of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Orange County. He and Ling also have helped fund church constructions.

“We felt this was where we want to contribute,” Zhang says of Concordia University Irvine. “We are Christians and want to pass Christian values on to others. We like Concordia’s leadership. It’s focused, with hope and joy.”

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