Chef Marcus Samuelsson is getting ready to open a second Red Rooster location, in New Jersey, but he’s not the only black restaurateur making moves. Meet Akida Mashaka, co-founder and CEO of two Hyperion Public restaurants in Los Angeles, the second of which opened just last year.
The restaurant business isn’t Mashaka’s first foray into entrepreneurship, it’s actually his third. A Morehouse and Harvard Law graduate, Mashaka worked as a corporate and entertainment attorney for five years before embarking on his first entrepreneurial endeavor—a real estate development and investment company he launched in 2003. The following year, he co-founded and became CEO of Hoagies & Wings eatery. He opened his first Hyperion Public restaurant with his two partners in 2012 and hasn’t looked back.
Black Enterprise sat down with Mashaka and talked a little about the lessons the restaurant business has taught him.
Black Enterprise: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned opening Hyperion Public restaurants in Silver Lake and Studio City?
While your concept, at its core, must be able to appeal to multiple demographics, you have to realize that the demographics of each location are not going to be exactly the same. This means customer expectations of service in each location may differ, too, and you must do what it takes to meet those expectations.
For example, our first location [Silver Lake] has a younger, more progressive, “hipster” demographic whereas our second location in Studio City is in an area a bit more upscale; where customers are more established financially. So in Studio City, the expectation of quality service starts from the valet to the host outside that’s greeting and directing customers before they even enter the restaurant.
What lessons will you take with you as you grow and expand Hyperion Public?
Everything comes down to meeting the expectations of customers every time they visit. And you need an effective way of getting the word out that you even exist. You can’t assume that just by opening up people will automatically know you’re there. While we’ve been fortunate to open in two great locations with demographics that perfectly complement our concept, we need to make sure the demographics of potential locations fit our concept just as well.
Our concept focuses on lunch, happy hour, dinner, late night and weekend brunch. So we always need to make sure there will be a customer base present to support all the parts of our business concept.
What are some myths people have told you about self-financing your business?
That it’s easier because you can be in complete control yourself and you don’t have to answer to anyone. The fact is, you don’t know everything, so try and get as much advice as possible from others more experienced in your industry.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out with no investors?
Treat your business as if there are investors involved. Ask yourself, before you do something major, would an investor recommend that I do this or not? Also, get a good CPA to handle your financials. You need to know how your business is doing financially and numbers don’t lie. A CPA is also important because it’s good to have someone outside your business who can be objective, with no agenda other than reporting on how your business is doing financially.
Selections from Hyperion Public’s fall dinner menu: