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.
“There’s the ‘hello, how are you doing?’ aspect of the business, but there’s the profitable, bookkeeping part, and that was something I didn’t know at the time. Are you making a profit? Are you staffing correctly? Are you doing all the things to reaching a certain market?
“It was fascinating how much you could learn in that capacity,” remembers Mashaka. “We opened our first location the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2004.”
The business grew to five locations around Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks, until the stock market crash in 2008.
“That’s when I learned the most,” Mashaka recalled. “I could not sustain all the restaurants because they couldn’t all be profitable. I had no more lines of credit to sustain them,” said Mashaka, who described 2009 and 2010 as a time when he “learned far more in business than I ever did.” After closing some locations, the entrepreneurs decided to focus on using online ordering and delivery, as a key business growth strategy. They contracted with a delivery company and made deliveries out of two central locations.
That approach paid off.
“We are the go-to place. We focus on a [specific] demographic. [Older] people can’t eat wings every day, but the younger kids can, so we focus on their demographic.”
“When I opened Hoagies & Wings, I was in my early 30s. Now I’m 40, and at a different time in my life. I have two kids and want a place where you can take your kids, or dads can come watch the game.
We came up with the Hyperion Public to fill that niche. Hyperion is the name of the street and Public is because the place is for everyone.
“I went to a bar in New York with a friend, and a woman turned to me and said, ‘What are you doing here? This is Lesbian night?’ As we were talking and I told her about the plan to open a restaurant she said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t make a gay night, or whatever night, just make it a place for everyone.’
“So we came up with the ‘Public’ in Hyperion Public, because we’re open for everyone. Our byline is ‘For the people, by the people.’ We’re the first community pub–a combination of neighborhood pub and restaurant.”
What makes Hyperion so successful comes down to the food, said Mashaka. “It always comes down to the food. The No. 1 thing that I try to focus on is consistency. For example, you come in [and] a place is supposed to be open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and you come in one day and they’re closed, or the chef’s not there or whatever, or the food is taking too long to come out. Consistency. To be honest, it’s like trying to be McDonald’s. To make sure that when you get there, you’re going to get what you want to get, and hold it to a certain standard. You need to be in the right location. Do your research.”
The market research for the business is now done by Akida’s sister, Asha, who is the vp of marketing and finance.
“A person can be aggressive about what they want to do, and open a place in a neighborhood where the neighborhood isn’t ready for it,” said Mashaka. “Everything I do I think, ‘I’m a buyer, not a seller.’ I think in the long term. Twenty years from now, how famous are we going to be? Where some people think in the short term.”
“The name Akida, in Swahili, means, the leader,” he said. “Growing up I was teased about name, but it gave me guidance because if you’re named “The Leader, you can’t follow. And I have great parents. I try to be a seeker of the truth, and if I make a mistake, I learn quickly, and don’t make the same mistake again.”