USC alumna Heather Apraku is primed for the Pasadena debut of her restaurant, Mix n’ Munch, a trendy, comfort-food cafe specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches and cereal.
This concept was not one of Apraku’s childhood daydreams: the Mix n’ Munch idea materialized much later, but like the warm Asiago of her sandwiches and the marshmallows in her milk, the decision felt right at home.
“My sister has always loved cereal, and when she was young she thought it would be great to open a cereal restaurant,” Apraku said. “I loved the idea as well, but it was always considered just a fun idea.”
As part of her master’s thesis in communication at USC, a project for her master’s degree which she completed in 2009, Apraku was presented with the opportunity to design a business plan, and forged ahead with the concept. Although seemingly limited in scope, Apraku saw in it a universal appeal.
“They are both classic comfort foods that you ate as a child,” Apraku said.
To Apraku, it would be food that brought customers back to their formative years. The simplicity of the ingredients would broaden, not narrow, the appeal.
After the business plan was completed, Apraku and her sister began searching for property. Last February, they finally discovered a fitting venue in South Pasadena and initiated architecture and design plans for the space. Apraku was also working full-time at USC as an administrative assistant to the College Dean’s Office, however. With menus in the works and an overwhelming array of other logistics, something had to give.
“We had hoped to open in the summer, but being first-time restaurant owners there were a lot of things that we were learning on the job and that slowed us down,” Apraku said.
Thus, as many dreammakers tend to do, Apraku left a steady job in order to chase something deemed fiscally uncertain.
“I really enjoyed working in the Dean’s Office, and although I didn’t think I would be there forever, I was in no hurry to leave, especially as the economy worsened and jobs were so hard to come by,” she said. “It actually was a little scary for me to leave USC.”
Yet, as she nears the grand opening of Mix n’ Munch, Apraku exudes a confidence that defies our dark economic times.
“I believe in our business so much that it was worth the risk,” she said.
Although Apraku has dedicated herself to Mix n’ Munch and could not have done so without tough skin and passion for her business, the idea of owning a restaurant that serves primarily grilled cheese and cereal was never part of the plan.
“As a kid I had no idea I would eventually own my own restaurant,” she said. “I always knew what I didn’t want to do, but never knew what I wanted to do.”
I think this is true of many undergrads. Often, we choose majors based on the inherent range of opportunities, when desire eventually surfaces. But until that time, we must keep ourselves open to spontaneity, introspection and exploration of the unknown. One major misconception of those students who major in something broad such as business administration, or communication is that they lack desire.
The reason for this is that a huge discrepancy exists between what people want in life and what they want as their lifelong career.
No matter the discipline, everyone dreams; everyone hopes for a job that is gratifying.
“I think the worse thing is to be stifled or feel stuck in something,” Apraku said. “I personally think it is important to do what you enjoy and what makes you happy.”
Oftentimes, many students end up falling into that dream accidentally. Friends and family come out of the woodwork and tell you it makes perfect sense that you’re doing that specific job because you’ve always loved guitar, graphic novels or cooking. Maybe you never thought of a hobby as a career, but it’s more likely you never thought of that hobby as something viable.
“I have always loved food, so although it was not something I always knew I would do. Most people that know me tell me that it is very fitting that I am opening a restaurant,” Apraku said.
If nothing else, we all need to be aware of what fills us. What is it that gets us through the workday? What do we babble on about without realizing? And what gets us to light up like a Christmas tree? Who knows, maybe your dream is staring up at you too, as simple and sweet as Sunday breakfast.
Brian Ivie is a sophomore majoring in cinema-television critical studies. His column, “Dreammaking,” runs Tuesdays.