It was 1977 when J.J. Wang saw a notice in the Los Angeles Times about a motel for sale in rural Utah. The motel was called the Apache. Wang, his wife, Sophia, and three young children had recently arrived in the United States from Taiwan. He hoped to go into the hotel business and the Apache, with its proximity to Arches National Park, sounded perfect.
The previous owner had been trying to sell the Apache for a year, with no success. Wang bought the hotel his second day in Moab, but he quickly realized the disadvantage of his new business — it was four blocks away from Main Street. Most tourists never knew it was there.
“But at that time, we worked really hard,” said Wang. “My wife [did] the laundry and cleaned the rooms. I got a couple people [to] help me do the room cleaning. I [ran] the front desk.”
He frequently worked 16-hour days, opening the hotel at 7 a.m. and closing the office at 11 p.m.
It was not Wang’s first business. In Taiwan, he had studied law at the National Taiwan University but decided to go into business instead of law or politics. He took a summer accounting course, which is where he met Sophia, then started a manufacturing business. In the mid-‘70s, he sold the business and moved to the U.S.
Wang’s parents, Taiwanese senators, helped the couple make the transition.
“We really appreciate that they gave us, me and Sophia, the opportunity to get educated and gradually established,” Wang said.
Moab took some getting used to. The couple moved from Taipei — at the time a city of 2 million people — to Utah.
It was “completely, totally different from my hometown,” Sophia Wang said. “That’s my first impression.”
Now, “I like it here,” she added. “When I go back [to Taiwan] … I feel it’s too crowded for me, too busy.”
Slowly, J.J. Wang’s hotel business grew. He bought the Ramada and then the Greenwell Inn. In 1987, he built the Super 8 Motel on Moab’s north end. He organized a hotel-motel association for Moab and served as the president for four years. He also joined the Rotary Club and the Moab Area Chamber of Commerce.
His three children, Tiffany, Steve and Jennifer, graduated from Grand County High School then went to college at Cornell and the University of Utah.
“They’re good kids … I think our school district did a good job,” Wang said.
Wang started a scholarship because, he said, he wanted to give back to the local community. He also contributed to the Mill Creek Parkway, the Boulder Park, and various community events.
“I think they are good things for the community. I want to be part of it and support it,” he said.
Wang flies an American flag at home, at his office and at each hotel in town.
“I love our country,” he said
Wang said he was a Boy Scout when he was 12 or 13.
“I was very proud, had the hat, the uniform, all those things. I still remember the Boy Scouts [had] three rules: Number one, [be] honest, all the time. Number two, love your country. Number three, do one good thing a day. It means, save one dog or help an old lady, old man, whatever,” Wang said. “That’s why I have a flag.”
“We do appreciate this community,” he added. “[It gave] us the opportunity to work hard … Everybody protects and builds up our local community. We’ve got lots of good people here.”
The hardest time for his business, according to Wang, was when the uranium mines closed a couple of years after he came to Moab. After the partial meltdown of the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979, public opposition to nuclear power grew and the demand for uranium declined, Wang said. By the early 1980s, most of the uranium mines were closed.
“All the uranium mines shut down in Moab. So that was the first recession. I would say two-thirds of the houses in this town had a ‘for sale’ sign,” Wang said. “That’s how bad [it was], because we depended on uranium so much.”
It was the first of four recessions that Wang would weather so far, including the Great Recession of 2008. Business slowed down but “you keep going and you get through it,” he said.
Still, he has found that the hotel business was more resilient than manufacturing. In recessions, he said, “Nobody buys new things [and] the manufacturing stops. But they still go to restaurants. They still have to travel sometimes. The hotel business is good because when it is a recession … you still can survive.”
Today, Wang is the CEO of Quintstar Management Company Inc., which owns and operates five hotels in Moab. Sophia supervises accounting for the business and their son, Steve, manages two of the Quintstar hotels in town. Tiffany and Jennifer live in New York. Wang also has seven grandchildren.
He travels frequently to the Wasatch Front for business, he said, and he likes sports so he often goes to see basketball games when he is in Salt Lake City.
“Right now, for myself, I just play golf … when I get the chance,” Wang said.
Recently he said he has had less time for family and activities outside of work.
“I think lately I’m too busy. I don’t get the time to go out to more activities, to be involved [in the community],” Wang said.
Wang also loves movies, especially action movies.
“[But] the love stories — that’s too much. I can’t stand it,” he said, laughing.
By Rose Egelhof