Poki Bowl Archives - Poki Bowl


Known as “The King of Island Foods” and nicknamed “Hawaii’s Burger”, the food concept known as poke, pronounced POH-kay, has recently grown in popularity within the United States, but where does it originally come from? What is the cause for this recent boom in interest? Is this just a trend or fad, or is it something that’ll mix in our countries cultural melting pot?


It turns out, that the tradition of poke started out many centuries ago, even though it might not have originally gone by that name. A Hawaiian cuisine, poke began when fisherman would season the cut-offs from their catch and eat it as snack. That is also where poke gets its name, as poke is a Hawaiian word that means “to slice, or cut crosswise into pieces”. Essentially, poke is the Hawaiian take on the Japanese dish known as sashimi, but instead of cutting the fish into thin slices they dice it into small cubes. Poke didn’t officially become the name for the dish until the 1960s when poke began to be featured in cookbooks and to be sold at the local markets in Hawaii. The fish were originally the small gray fish found in the local reefs such as oio (bonefish) before preference eventually shifted towards more popular, larger fish of the ocean such as ahi (yellowfin tuna).


While poke fast casual restaurants only began to appear on the mainland around 2012, you can ask any Hawaiian native and they won’t be able to tell you a time where they don’t remember eating poke. Poke is to Hawaii as hamburgers are to the rest of the United States. They are featured in simple events such as small family gatherings and luaus to extravagant ones such as weddings. Traditionally, poke is served as an appetizer or snack, seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt, inamona (crushed, roasted kukui nuts mixed with salt) and limu kohu, a variety of seaweed difficult to find anywhere outside of Hawaii.


Poke is definitely a Hawaiian dish, but it has changed throughout the years as immigrants to the islands add their own ingredients to the mix. The Japanese, for example, added shoyu to their recipes. Moreover, as the generations of Hawaiians grow up, some become chefs who want to display their unique take on the dish they grew up eating. One of those individuals is Sam Choy, most likely the king of poke, who has hosted a “I Love Poke Festival”  every year since 1991. This has allowed for the growth of the dish and for its emergence into fast casual dining. Nowadays, a variety of types of poke are offered with an innumerable amount of combinations available. Even at the local Hawaiian store can you find dozens of poke available. As for why it’s served in a bowl? Asian culture has been eating from bowls for centuries and in most households you will find more bowls than plates. It is as much a part of the culture as poke itself.


Poke is ubiquitous in Hawaii and it is rapidly growing its presence on the mainland. It has been said to be “the next generation of sushi but easier to eat”. There has been much debate on whether this is just a fad at the moment, but the truth is, with poke there is no right or wrong. Just as it has done over the centuries, poke will continue to evolve and adapt to the tastes of those who enjoy it while maintaining reverence for its foundation – the traditional Hawaiian preparations.


Love it or hate it, but is it here to stay?

Popping up faster than your local burrito joint or another Starbucks café, poke restaurants have grown by the hundreds, appearing in every major city and municipality in the United States. Between 2014 and 2016 alone, the amount of poke restaurants nearly doubled, growing from 342 venues to 700. However, is this growth sustainable? Is this Hawaiian cuisine projected to be the next big thing with its Subway-esque model, or is it just another franchise fad that will soon be irrelevant?


In 2016, 585 American-Hawaiian restaurants were open for business in the U.S.; only 43 of those had “poke” in their name, according to the food industry market research firm Datassential. In 2017 there were 1,093 with 422 containing “poke” in their name. Mentions of poke on U.S. restaurant menus have increased 102 percent from four years ago. The numbers speak for themselves and it’s easy to see why.


In order to set up a poke restaurant, all anyone needs is a refrigerator, a rice cooker and a bit of elbow room. There’s no need to acquire a large commercial space that will be filled with ovens. Due to that, a couple hundred thousand dollars are taken off the initial startup costs and in the long term there’s no need to pay for a grease trap or an exhaust hood. For these reasons, poke bowl concepts have become popular franchise opportunities because of the low startup costs and operational costs.


As more and more poke bowl franchises open up, the more this hot new concept is brought to the attention of the public. More than 35 million Americans have tried poke. That still leaves roughly 300 million Americans out of the loop, with plenty of room for the business to grow!


One of the companies that’s taking advantage of this new opportunity and wants to share their wealth with others is Poki Bowl. Poki Bowl announced the launch of their franchise offering earlier this year. Established in 2015, within 2 years, they expanded to five locations around the Bay Area. With their new fast casual franchise offering, Poki Bowl is ready to expand their brand to newer regions and more communities by offering the LOWEST startup costs in the poke industry. “At the end of the day, we want to share the tradition and great taste of poke with as many people we can and we believe our brand is the best vehicle to do just that.”


Why some poke companies fail while others are thriving.

Poke began as a simple, humble appetizer in Hawaii, and in recent years has grown to become a successfully popular dish here on the mainland. Many native Hawaiian chefs have introduced their own unique take to their childhood meal, but all have retained their reverence for the traditional Hawaiian preparations. For poke, the ingredients have to match the fish. It’s like pairing food and wine together.


What makes the poke bowl, fast casual dining experience appealing might also be its ultimate downfall if companies are not careful. These up-and-coming franchises offer a business model similar to what Subway has established and what has been replicated by other franchises such as Chipotle. Essentially, you arrive at the counter to then select your items one by one based on its category. For poke bowl concepts, you first choose the base (rice, noodles, quinoa), followed by the protein (yellowfin, salmon, octopus) and then your choice of dressing and additional toppings. While there are traditional pairings for poke, chefs have gone creative with their own combinations and allow their customers to mix and match themselves. This, nonetheless, can at times be overwhelming.


Trying new things can be hard enough, and even if you’re into exploring the unknown, it becomes a challenge to have a guaranteed satisfactory experience when you are faced with hundreds of possible combinations. Even if you are provided the luxury of perusing your many options as you wait in a long line, once you arrive at the counter you become nervous with the looming menu board hanging over you. You feel pressured to order quickly to not hold up the line and you order whatever sounds interesting not sure if you will win this game of mix-n-match. An awkward pairing for a customer might result in a negative experience and the possibility of them returning spirals downward.


However, let’s say on your first attempt you actually come out victorious! Somehow, a seemingly random combination of food actually tasted pretty good and was worth the $12 charged to you. But, are you willing to risk it again? Do you continue to experiment or do you remain satisfied with your first creation and avoid the risk of ruining your palette?


These are things that genuinely concern customers. If choosing what to put on a sandwich can be a difficult decision for some, then imagine what having to choose from a variety of unfamiliar things would be like. Sure, the client enjoys having that freedom to decide what goes in their meal, but they also want the expertise in helping them make the decision of what works best.


Poki Bowl brings that level of expertise to the poke space, and have become one of the most successful fast casual franchise opportunities by keeping it simple. They offer only four bases – sushi rice, brown rice, mixed greens or chips, with six options of protein and two vegetables. Their selection of sauces is simple with no complicated names – no-spicy, mild, or spicy. After those basic steps, customers are free to add whichever toppings they would like for texture.


The success of this simple strategy can be seen in each of their locations, from the first that’s been open since inception of the company or from those that have only opened their doors a few weeks back.  Poke restaurants already provide a simple business model, and Poki Bowl finds a way to make it even more simple by supplying only the best menu items for their customers.


With recent trends shifting to consumers looking for healthier lifestyles, companies have never had to be more careful with what they put into their products than now. This rings true even more within the food industry. While it may have been acceptable in the past, consumers are no longer willing to eat anything filled with GMOs, that hurts the environment or that has been sitting in freezers for months. In order to attract the modern-day consumer, companies hoping to deliver any kind of dining experience must make promises with words such as “organic”, “fresh”, and “environmentally friendly”.

©2021 Poki Bowl®Privacy PolicyPoki Bowl® Blog

Website development by
Artisan Innovations Group