Alumni

Mashita: “it’s delicious!”


by Nanfei Liu

 
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SUMMARY: It is a beautiful exchange when a perfect plate of food gets handed to you through a window. A restaurant on four wheels delivers a unique experience because the chef gets to express freely. The food truck industry allows owners to call the shots and feel limitless with creative bravery. Mikey Reisenberg (’09) rose to the occasion and built a bridge between Korean flavors and Western cooking techniques.


Reisenberg grew up in a household where it was all about getting people around a dinner table and breaking bread with those you love. His experience working in restaurants and influence from a family of business owners helped him realize his entrepreneurial goals early on. Those goals were simple: do something to make someone smile. What brings people more joy than a mouthful of delicious flavors? Coming a long way since its humble beginnings as a food truck, Reisenberg is now the head chef and owner of Mashita, a Korean-inspired restaurant located in Harrisonburg, Virginia.40.png

Reisenberg was two months old when he was adopted from Seoul, South Korea, by a Harrisonburg family. His experiences contributed to his transformation into an intercultural chef. Reisenberg celebrates how food is deeply rooted in culture by pushing the boundaries of technique and flavor. Korean-inspired flavors and refined French cooking techniques have paved the way on his journey as a chef. It all started in 2013 when Reisenberg founded the Mashita food truck. The culinary exploration of Mashita is to elevate Korean street food and present it elegantly. “Korean street food became the focal point as it was a way for me to explore my Korean identity.”

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Mashita started out as a food truck! 

The story behind the restaurant name, Mashita, is as interesting as the innovative dishes served. Before Reisenberg launched Mashita on four wheels, he was eating at every food truck he could find. While brainstorming on all the possibilities from cuisine type to branding, a fellow Duke, Nathaniel Lee (’14), casually said “mashita,” the Korean slang phrase for “it’s delicious!” When Lee was young, he had trouble pronouncing the formal Korean phrase for proclaiming something tastes great. His parents taught him a simpler way, mashita. This resonated with Reisenberg as he jokingly refers to himself as a “fake Korean,” someone who has had to learn about that part of his identity intentionally. The name Mashita perfectly encapsulates his mission to celebrate Korean flavors by fusing them with other cuisines.

38.pngInterestingly enough, Reisenberg enrolled at JMU as a hospitality major but soon switched to studying history, which enabled him to develop a deeper understanding of our world and how various forces shape our lives. His curious nature continues to contribute to his success today as a storyteller through food.  “I wanted some knowledge of the world so I could speak to anyone and everyone about something.”

JMU was a place of discovery for Reisenberg. He recalls the exposure to the different experiences of people from all walks of life, which encouraged him to “be ok with who you are and how other people are and try to find that happy medium.” Reisenberg spent his time at JMU arguing with classmates, debating the influence of various historical events on society. “It gave me a much deeper understanding of my fellow man, which helped me shape the kind of entrepreneur I wanted to be.”42.png

With that cultivated mindset during his undergraduate years, Reisenberg now leads his team by creating a work environment that encourages developing his staff’s strengths. He strives to offer understanding and flexibility for each individual employee’s life and situation. “As society modernizes with technological advancements and as we go through traumas like the COVID-19 pandemic, we tend to trust people less and fear them even more. I would like to flip that conditioning and encourage others to talk and share. To be kind, generous, and not think about yourself.”

Besides letting cultural flavors duel it out on serving plates, Reisenberg’s main priority is to take care of the Mashita community by supporting their staff and providing artisan goods to local non-profits for fundraising efforts. “Rising tides raise all ships! The better and stronger my friends, family, and coworkers are, the better I become. The bar is raised, and as we are learning from one another, we also do more for each other.”

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Tteokbokki - Rice Cake

Customers can look forward to an additional 16,000 square feet of space coming soon to the current restaurant located in Downtown Harrisonburg. “It is going to be one of the most personalized spaces in Harrisonburg. I’ve been using all local vendors and artisans for every detail -- from the hardwood floors to the artwork on the walls.” In addition, the expansion adds more seating, a large outdoor deck, a full-sized bar, and seven free Multicade arcade machines to the Mashita experience!

Mashita is an exploration for both its customers and creator alike. Reisenberg does not fit into the typical mold of a Korean chef. He admits that he may not understand all the food customs, nor does he speak the language. However, this has not stopped him from exploring and approaching each day with a tenacious curiosity. These explorations have led to dishes such as the Vegan Eggplant Katsu, Korean Style Burrito, and Caramelized Kimchi Quesadilla.

If you are an adventure-seeker, innovator, or someone who desires to serve a community, Reisenberg would tell you to:

“Be confident in yourself and the abilities you have. Know that you will make mistakes along the way and not be discouraged. You will be able to learn from them.”

“Find ways to keep your passion alive and enthusiasm intact. You’ve made it this far in life and the way you handle that trauma and push forward is what will yield success in every aspect of your life.”

 

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Published: Thursday, December 9, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 15, 2021

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