Lincoln Yee

AAPI Month: Lincoln Yee and International Food Solutions are Innovating school lunches – and the food industry

IFS is investing $100 million in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood.

The food industry brought Lincoln Yee to Cleveland. Two decades later, the California native is re-imagining the national food industry, specifically school lunches and poultry processing, in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood.

International Food Solutions, where Lee is president and founder, is currently leading a large investment in the City of Cleveland, where they are building a $100 million poultry processing-and-cooking plant for chicken-based school meals.  When completed at E. 55th Street and Central Avenue, a food desert where the median household income is $10,500, the company will employ more than 225 people at an average wage of $22.75, plus health and childcare subsidies.  It will be transformative.

This is only the latest groundbreaking move from Yee, who was inspired to become an entrepreneur by a request for diverse school lunches – and his Asian background.  Today, IFS consists of Asian Food Solutions and Comida Vida. Soon, and Indian brand will be added to their portfolio.

GCP recently caught up with Yee to discuss his big news, his start in the food industry, and how as a fourth- generation Asian-American, he is carrying on the American Dream.

What brought you to Cleveland?

I relocated in my late twenties, working for Panda Express, the largest Asian restaurant chain in the country. Twenty years ago, Asian food was emerging as a profile that people wanted to frequent. There wasn’t a predecessor back in those days, we were going to make it the McDonald’s of Asian cuisine.

How did this lead to Asian Food Solutions?

In 2007, we were approached by a school nutrition person in Orange County, Florida. He frequented one of our restaurants. One day, he said “Hey, you know, kids are really interested in Asian food, right?” I’m thinking at first that this is a catering request from the school district. No, no, no, no, no. This is not a catering gig. He said, “my district has 176,000 kids.”

So, I was like, “wow, how am I going to feed 200,000 kids? And how can we make orange chicken in the public school system a healthier option?”

I thought, maybe the chain wants to do it with me to do it for schools. I found out that the chain wasn’t interested, so I said – “I’m quitting.”

My business partner, Alan Lam, quit too, and that’s how Asian Food Solutions started.

Asian Food Solutions' General Tso's Chicken.
Asian Food Solutions’ General Tso’s Chicken. (All photos courtesy of Lincoln Yee.)

Can you talk more about your growth?

Our business has been primarily feeding school districts. We supply everywhere. We supply Cleveland Public. We supply Los Angeles. We supply New York City. We supply 5,300 districts nationwide.

Allan Lam, left, and Lincoln Yee.
Allan Lam, left, and Lincoln Yee.

How have school lunches changed over the years?

People today, kids included, want different types of things. They don’t want to eat pizza and hamburgers every day.

Kids are sophisticated. And so, we, we became one of those choices on the menu –that’s what drove demand as kids became incrementally more exposed to ethnic foods. This summer, we’re launching an Indian brand.

When I was in school,I would take my Chinese lunch and I had an Indian friend, and he would have his lunch, and I’d say, “hey, let’s trade.” My mom didn’t know how to cook Indian food, and his mom didn’t make Chinese food. That was instrumental in what I do today.

Can you talk more about your background?

I am fourth-generation Chinese-American. My ancestors came to the United States in the 1880s. My dad’s settled in the Pittsburgh area and my mom’s side in San Francisco.

Your parents must be very proud of you.

Absolutely. It’s  all rooted in this immigrant notion. You know, back in the day, Chinese people called California “Gold Mountain,”  because of the gold rush and need for laborers on the railroads and in the mining areas in California …  lot of opportunities. This notion of opportunity plays into later generations. My parents and grandparents were saying, “hey, work hard and you can fulfill the American dream.”

Can you talk more about your new plant in Cleveland?

During the pandemic there were a lot supply chain shortages and we said, “we need to solve this somehow.” We had been looking to acquire a building on Central Avenue that was headed into bankruptcy. So we said, this could solve our problem. It’s priced right. About the same time the Biden administration began a grant program to expand meat production in the United States because of these supply chain shortages. It just happened to be the right timing.

How were you able to secure so much public financing?

We worked with a consultant who helped us connect the dots for the USDA grant application – it was 1,000 pages!

I think what is key was showing this project would be transformative for the neighborhood. Average wages in the in the neighborhood are a little over $10,000 a year. We’re starting out at wages of over $22 an hour.

There’s a duty developers have in public- private partnerships. Between federal, state and local, it is a very collaborative process. We took a very collaborative approach. How can we help the community? What can we bring to transform a neighborhood economically?

We are talking during AAPI Heritage Month. How do you think your story can inspire others?

There’s a little bit of American dream perspective here. I ultimately am the fruit of my forefathers, who came here not even knowing English.

I am continuing a legacy that I’m hoping to extend to my kids. This is a legacy that I’m giving to the next generation of Asian-Americans.

Read More

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: recognizing the valuable contributions to Cleveland — Greater Cleveland Partnership

Home — Cleveland Asian Festival

OCA Greater Cleveland Chapter — Embracing the hopes and aspirations of Asian Pacific Americans in Northeast Ohio (

Additional Links — OCA Greater Cleveland Chapter (

Welcome to Asiatown | Destination Cleveland | Cleveland, OH | This Is Cleveland

USPAACC | Largest, Most Established Asian American Business…

U.S. Census Bureau Releases Key Stats in Honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month | U.S. Department of Commerce

Spotlight on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States — New American Economy Research Fund

Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Inclusive Opportunity and Appealing Community.


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