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.