We had the good fortune of connecting with Roger Ma and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Roger, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk will always be prevalent in just about every aspect of life. It starts off with the choices you make as a young individual up until your final days in life. There’s an opportunity cost for any choice you make. If you choose to pursue a passion and craft that may not initially pay as well as a “stable career” that your parents desire for you, you risk being criticized by your family and fellow peers for not following “world standards” and also giving up the annual vacation and stable paychecks that many people want to seek. But I truly believe following your passion and pursuing it full-heartedly will grow you along the path once you reach your goal. The journey of getting there will knock you down over and over again and can make or break one’s morale and drive.
I’ve pursued a number of ventures over the years and ran the risk of investing a big lump-sum of capital (and time) without any guarantee of a return-on-investment. Not only that, but as someone who aspires to be an entrepreneur and business owner, you will need to forgo many of the life events surrounding us. There’s not only the financial risk aspect but also the risk of giving up your social life for a set period of time. I’ve skipped out on numerous life events that many people live for, such as birthday parties, weekend events, entertainment, etc. Not only can this be isolating but there are situations that’ll break you down and make you question your own sanity. But as long as you keep the end goal in mind and think about the “why,” it’ll continue to push you to hustle and stay consistent throughout the tough times.
We’re creatures of comfort and like to have predictable days but if we don’t take a risk to get out of our comfort-zone on a regular basis, we’d never grow. You don’t want to be that person who was comfortable taking a path that society breeds us to be. Sure, you may do well and excel in your career and meeting those milestones of life but at the end of it all, you’ll always have that thought lingering in the back of your head: “What if?”
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Hakkai – Aquascape Design Gallery
We’ve launched off the very first aquascape gallery in Southern California during the middle of the pandemic in 2020. Some people thought we were a bit crazy (I admit I’m a bit of a nutcase at times) to start a new venture during a time of uncertainty but we went ahead and started scouting potential gallery spaces all around San Diego. Our good friend and fellow teammate, Patrick Smith, joined me throughout the numerous visits we’ve had with commercial leasing agents and played a key part in dialing in our final decision on which space to go with.
It was quite challenging trying to find a space to allow us to display glass aquariums filled with huge volumes of water. Some landlords were also quite deceiving and some of our first couple spaces we almost signed a lease on fell through due to some terms that weren’t very favorable on our end. We decided to go with a smaller studio space at the Arts District of Liberty Station. It was a blessing to be able to get accepted into a neighborhood that has a collective of local artists in different crafts and arts. Not only has the community been really receptive but we’ve collaborated with a number of them throughout this past year and the Arts District (shoutout to Andrew, Alan & Kate from the NTC Foundation team for assisting us on a regular basis) has been amazing in building cohesion amongst the community.
It’s been amazing to be able to grow this hobby within the local community and to also inspire tourists in town that happen to pass by and by captivated by our aquascape displays. Many of the comments we get are “I only thought fish tanks consisted of rainbow colored gravel, plastic plants and dull colored fish,” or “Are those real plants?” This brings a smile to our faces knowing that we’re growing aquascaping and bringing awareness that aquariums are much more than a tank with just fish and ornaments, it’s truly a meticulous work of art.
Hakkai’s dream is to inspire fellow aspiring aquascapers through the showcasing of our creativity and imagination in our aquascape gallery.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Being right next to the Mexican border and the Pacific Ocean has given us San Diegans easy access to an array of fresh seafood and authentic Baja Californian cuisine. We’d definitely start off with some fish tacos at either TJ Oyster Bar in Bonita or some adobada and mulitas tacos at Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista. A trip to SD isn’t worthy if one doesn’t hit up a taco shop, that’s for sure!
Heartworks and Bird Rock are the two top choices when it comes to damn good pour over coffees or cold brews for those looking to get some single origin coffee bean caffeine fixes. Lofty has a very well made Kyoto style cold brew that is a must try as well (not to mention their fresh pastry selections that’ll complement the coffee notes).
For seafood, El Pescador in La Jolla is a must-visit. Not only can you select the seafood you see out on their display case but they’ll cook it anyway you’d like. The fishmonger will even give you their personal recommendations on what’s fresh for the day or the flavors or cooking styles they’d recommend for your particular seafood choice. One must have here is their cioppino soup!
Sushi choices are also vast here in town and my two top choices are Tadokoro in Old Town and Soichi in University Heights. The omakase is a must-have at both places. I recommend going when Amaebi (sweet shrimp) is in season. Be sure to book a seat at the sushi bar so you can have the best experience. Oh, don’t forget to buy a round of beer or sake for the guys doing all the magic behind the bar!
For drinks, Fort Oak in Mission Hills makes some mighty tasty whiskey cocktails. Born & Raised in Little Italy is also a good choice when it comes to prohibition-era cocktails. If you’re looking for a vast selection of whiskeys and like to drink it neat, Whiskey House in downtown and Aero Club in Mission Hills are your go-to spots. You can visit those two spots hundreds of times and will not even make a dent in the number of bottles they have on hand.
Being a diverse city, Asian cuisine is also a must-try. Vietnamese hotspots in town are Phuong Trang (definitely order their 7-course beef) in Convoy District (next to our sister store, Pet Zone Tropical Fish) and PT Eatery in (also in Convoy District/Kearny Mesa). When you’re finished with your meal, hit up Mngo Desserts or Cake de Partie for some sugary delights (both spots are also in Convoy District).
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My parents (Paul & Jenney) and my significant other, Priscilla. They’ve always pushed me to be my best and have been there to support my endeavors, despite knowing it maybe a stressful path without any guarantee of being rewarding.