Akida Mashaka grew up in Cerritos, Calif., and became one of the highest-ranking high school tennis champions in his league,.
At the same time, he was voted "class clown," and the idea of owning (with business partner, Cordon Bleu chef Bryan Newell) Hoagies & Wings, one of the most successful online and delivery franchise of sandwiches and wings in the Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley area was not even on his radar.
Add to that his newest venture, Hyperion Public, known as the "community pub," located in the Silver Lake area, and you have the picture of an entrepreneur on the move.
Before taking up the mantle of business owner, Akida's tennis skills earned him a scholarship to the University of San Diego, where he admits, he lacked focus in his studies, as well as the drive to become a pro player.
Realizing that, he left San Diego and returned to Cerritos Community College and began to focus on getting good grades.
That turned out to be a good move. The Southern California native then followed friends who also played tennis to Morehouse College. He transferred to Morehouse on a tennis scholarship as a psychology major, and ended up graduating first in his class.
After graduating, Mashaka decided to pursue a career in law, but wanted to go to school on the West Coast. He also took a year off to study for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
A neighbor who worked at Johnnie Cochran's law firm recommended Mashaka for an internship at the firm.
He also applied to a number of prominent law schools on the West Coast, including his first choice, University of California at Berkeley. A lawyer at the firm recommended he also apply to Harvard or Yale, because "even if your grades aren't good, you're guaranteed a job."
So, armed with high scores on his LSAT, and a letter of recommendation from Johnnie Cochran, Mashaka was accepted at every school he applied to, including UC Berkeley. Then, he received an acceptance from Harvard, and the dean at Berkeley told him, "If you've been accepted to Harvard, you may want to consider that." He chose Harvard.
After graduating Harvard, Mashaka worked at a number of places, including the law firm of Tuttle and Taylor; the Creative Artists (talent) Agency, and Universal Studios.
It was at Universal that his entrepreneurial spirit started to take shape. "The people in the highest positions had the least amount of credibility. It was an awakening for me," recalls Mashaka. "I began buying real estate. I left Universal in 2003 and have been on my own ever since."
Mashaka and Newell began looking for commercial real estate, wanting to open a restaurant that wouldn't need a lot of start-up money, and had low overhead.
Using hot sandwich recipes from Bryan's father, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., and their own recipe for the wings, the duo worked "10 days a week, for a year."
Mashaka made every delivery, and found the restaurant business addicting.