Day in the Life: Holden McRae ’20

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Milla Ben-Ezra

Sitting at his piano, chords humming, beats tapping, Holden McRae ’20 shifts between music production, college work and a self-owned takeout business. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, McRae fills his days with various passions and hobbies, ranging from songwriting to entrepreneurship .

A student at the University of Southern California Thorton School of Music, McRae starts his day off attending online classes, which mainly consist of studying music and production. He said his college experience is quite a significant shift from the academia of high school.

“It’s really different, I’d say, than high school because I wasn’t even in choir or jazz band or anything like that in school, so I didn’t have anything music-based in my curriculum,” McRae said. “It’s so different because I have only one class that’s non-music, and now my whole day is music: studying music, learning about music, whether it’s songwriting class, or [Music] Theory or listening skills.”

Although McRae never enrolled in musical classes during high school, he tried his best to incorporate music into his life, spending his breaks in school practice rooms exploring his singing abilities and passions for piano.Music has always been a hobby he was passionate about, and when his older sister graduated from the USC Thorton School of Music, he was inspired to follow in her footsteps, he said.

McRae describes his takeout business.

When McRae’s school days are over, and he is not logged into a Zoom course studying harmonies, he often finds himself in the kitchen, working on his takeout company, Mixed Foods.

McRae said throughout middle school, he prepared nearly every family dinner and fell in love with cooking, a passion that has stuck with him throughout his life. For McRae, cooking was simply a hobby until one of his friends revealed his interest in buying his dishes, sparking his initial inspiration for a business.

“At the beginning of quarantine, I put on my Snapchat story [asking] if other people would be interested in buying food, and way more people [responded] than I thought were going to,” McRae said. “I started delivering food to a couple of my friends that would reach out. At first, I didn’t have any structured plan; it was whatever they wanted me to make, I’d make.”

After opening for business during the spring break of his senior year of high school, the Mixed Foods menu now mainly features pizzas, which McRae said he makes as ordered. In addition to working on school assignments, McRae works to prepare and fulfill these orders in the afternoons, developing his business.

“If I get an order, I’ll get it two days in advance,” McRae said. “Two days in advance I’ll start making the dough and getting everything ready, going to get ingredients. Then a day after, when it’s ready, I’ll go deliver it, and that’s super fluid in my schedule, so it’s not every day, but whenever I get an order, I’ll be doing that.”

Mixed Food’s most popular dishes are their Pizza Margherita and their classic cheese pizza, and McRae’s customer base generally consists of school community members, ranging from his close friends to teachers who hear word of his food.

“The pizza I enjoy making the most is one I used to make but isn’t on my current menu, which is the sausage, caramelized onion, ricotta, honey and jalapeño pizza,” McRae said.

McRae donates proceeds to the Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation.

McRae said he feels that his business is a unique opportunity for him to give back to an organization he truly cares about . He donates a portion of all revenue earned from Mixed Foods to The Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation, which was created in honor of Justin Carr, a former student at the school who passed away from an undiagnosed heart condition in 2013. McRae said he wanted to support this particular organization because he has a personal connection to it.

“Justin Carr, who went to Harvard-Westlake, was friends with my sister, and our moms are close, so I thought a cool way to tie it all together would be to donate some of the proceeds,” McRae said. “[The Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation is] a charity his family started, and they help out kids give out scholarships for kids who need them, and they do a lot of work with the arts because Justin was a really good artist.”

In the future, when his public reach is not limited by the pandemic, McRae has high hopes to further expand Mixed Foods and has contracted USC for event catering , McRae said.

McRae put his basketball career on pause during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, McRae also intended to play basketball for the USC team, further progressing a lifelong passion of his. However, McRae put his basketball career on pause, choosing the safety of his family over his position on the team, McRae said.

“I was going to play basketball at USC, but my mom is immunocompromised,” said McRae. “So, for [COVID-19], I knew if I was playing basketball, I wouldn’t really get to see my family. I knew that if I played on the team, weighing this idea, [I thought] that this might not be something that’s not so worth it during [the pandemic].”

Although McRae is unable to play basketball for the USC basketball team this year, in his free time, he tries to keep up with the sport, shooting hoops for fun or staying updated with professional teams, McRae said. He said that looking ahead, he aims to rejoin the sport when the opportunity is safe for him and his family.

As McRae tackles an abundance of college work, he manages to find time between Zoom meetings to sit at his piano and express himself through his music, occasionally pausing to check the rising dough for his next culinary creation.