Mr. Obanyaki: A Modern Take on Childhood Nostalgia
For many, Obanyaki offers a sweet taste of childhood memories. For the Mok family, it also represents family, community, and a new dream. Join us as we meet Kevin Mok, one of the founders of Mr. Obanyaki in Monterey Park.
Kevin and Kenny Mok are brothers, residents of the San Gabriel Valley, and co-founders of Mr. Obanyaki. Kevin handles the day to day operations and Kenny manages branding and company designs. Their goal? “To inspire consumers to relive childhood memories with a modern dessert concept.”
While they serve a great product, the brothers’ backgrounds also contribute largely to their shop. Kevin graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Hospitality Management and has 14 years of experience in the hospitality industry- working everything from restaurant jobs to hotel jobs. Kenny, on the other hand, graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena after majoring in Illustration Entertainment Arts. He currently works at Netflix as a background designer. Because Mr. Obanyaki is their first venture as business owners, they had to adapt quickly as every day brought unexpected challenges and learning experiences. While much of it was new, Kevin says his experience in hospitality has benefited them greatly. He says, “My education has taught me 2 critical skills: customer service & problem-solving. These two skills are crucial in the hospitality industry, and as a result, it has awarded us with 4.5 stars on yelp with over 375 reviews.”
Another secret to Mr. Obanyaki’s success? Family. Apart from Kevin and Kenny’s relationship as brothers, Kevin shares that their parents were their inspiration and guide for starting Mr. Obanyaki. Their mom helped them perfect the recipe, and their dad taught them management. Kevin says, “My mom and dad have been in the food business for over 40 years. So they have a lot of knowledge and skills to help guide us toward success.”
While it seems like being in the food industry runs in the family, this was not always the plan. It was always Kevin’s dream to run his own business but he did not know exactly what he wanted. After college, Kevin ended up working a “dead-end job at a company that wouldn’t help [him] grow professionally.” He felt lost and at times even depressed. This all changed when one day he thought to himself, “If I don’t quit now and chase my dreams, then I will forever be working a dead-end job and building someone else’s dreams.” With this newfound courage in his heart, he quit the very next day. With his newfound time and motivation, Kevin was able to set goals and partner with Kenny to create the family-owned business he had always dreamed of.
While Kevin’s story is inspirational, it definitely was not easy. 2019, their first year of business, was the hardest. Their obanyaki machine broke down on multiple occasions, they changed their recipes, and business was slow. Now, they are facing the pandemic head-on. Despite the onslaught of challenges, Kevin is undeterred. He thanks his great team for helping them tackle every challenge and recognizes that it’s all a part of the process.
Kevin says, “there is a saying that goes, “ You can’t win, if you’re too scared to lose” which means you will never know if you can succeed without doing it first.” While starting a business or pursuing a dream is risky, he wants to tell others to “take smart risks because if you win, you will be happy. But, if you lose, you will be wiser. Not everyone has the drive and the will to become an entrepreneur. But, dreams do come true, just do it.”
Community has also been integral to Mr. Obanyaki. As an Asian, family-owned business, it is especially meaningful for them to sell obanyakis, a childhood snack familiar to many residents in the San Gabriel Valley. As such, they also make it a priority to pay it forward. “We were always taught by our parents to always give back to the community. At the beginning of the pandemic in April, we donated desserts to nurses. Recently due to the huge wildfires, with the help of the community, we donated desserts and drinks to multiple fire stations in the San Gabriel Valley. We are all dealing with this pandemic situation and uncertainty together, so the best we can do is bring smiles to others with tasty desserts.”
And they are succeeding at exactly that. With 8 flavors of Obanyaki like red bean, custard, and black sesame, all guests are bound to find a flavor they love. Their signature item is the Obanyaki Ice Cream, a unique combo that can only be found at Mr. Obanyaki. In this special dessert, obanyaki and the famous Fosselman’s ice cream come together in a perfect marriage of hot and cold flavors. While it seems very trendy, the dessert was inspired by their nostalgic love for both obanyaki and ice cream as children. Their most famous combo? The custard obanyaki with Cookie Monster ice cream. “It is the best of both worlds in one dessert concept.”
While Kevin and his team have overcome many challenges, he senses that the toughest time is yet to come. He tells us that since dessert season is over, it’s expected that business will slow down as we enter the winter months. With the pandemic and worsened economy, he predicts that business will be even tougher than usual. He tells us, “I hope we survive, because we literally sacrificed everything for this dream.”
Mr. Obanyaki has been giving back to the community and working hard to give us a taste of both childhood nostalgia and an inspiring dream. Let’s do our best to support Kevin and his team by eating some delicious obanyaki, having a sip of White Rabbit Milk Tea, and keeping their delicious dream alive!
Visit Mr. Obanyaki!
Location: 2085 S Atlantic Blvd suite j, Monterey Park, CA 91754
Phone: (323) 488-0044
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