The new sushi? Aloha Poke Co signs first franchise agreement

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Aloha Poke Co. plans to open 100 locations by 2022.

Traditional Hawaiian poke bowls are fast gaining popularity for its diced sushi-grade fish combined with pickled veg and rice dishes.

In a press release, Aloha Poke Co., a restaurant chain based in Chicago that specialises in fast-casual versions of poke writes that it inked a multi-unit agreement for three Aloha Poke locations in Maryland’s Washington, D.C. suburbs.

The company – which sources its farmed salmon from Chile – currently has 18 locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida and Washington, D.C.

Franchises
Setting up the franchises is Baryalay “Razi” Razi who has more than 20 years of restaurant operations and ownership experience and now owns five Bojangles’ Chicken ‘n Biscuits locations in Maryland.

Fresh poke, cubed, marinated seafood are gaining popularity. PHOTO: Aloha Poke. Co

“I am confident that the concept will stand alone in our market. We make it easy to get fresh, sashimi-grade fish in our tasty bowls. That’s a big reason why the brand is positioned to be a hit in D.C. Metro Maryland,” said Razi, who also lives in the area. “I’ve seen the restaurant industry from several perspectives, as a location manager, regional head of operations and as an owner/operator. There’s nothing like Aloha Poke. It will be received extremely well in the communities where we plan to open.”

“Razi is precisely the type of entrepreneur we want to grow our brand – he checks all the boxes,” said Chris Birkinshaw, CEO of Aloha Poke Co. “Since getting to know him in recent months, I have truly enjoyed collaborating with him and seeing firsthand how committed he is to operating at the highest level. Razi’s life story, restaurant career, and path to entrepreneurship are an inspiration to me. He is a great ambassador for Aloha Poke.”

Simple and cheap
An alternative to sushi, Hawaiian Poke (pronounced Poh-Keh) gained popularity for its simple, healthy dishes. Over the years, many outlets have opened across the US and the UK, with consumers hungrier than ever for raw seafood. It helps that all you need to open a restaurant is a relatively simple and cheap set up i.e an electrical outlet to cook the rice and a refrigeration unit for the fish and that’s just about it.

Simple, cheap set-up. PHOTO: Aloha Poke

In the US, one company called Poki Bowl, spearheaded by US franchise expert Hossein Kasmai, is aiming to open at least 100 plus restaurants by the end of this year. On the opposite end of the scale, former Director of Operations Europe Kurtz Desar for the high-end sushi empire Nobu (from top Chef Nobu Matsuhisa), opened Black Roe Poke Bar and Grill in Mayfair London, with more planned in the pipeline.

Trademark
For Aloha Poke Co, there are still more opportunities to get more fast-casual raw fish into the market. Though it looks like it learnt a lot of lessons on the way. The company, founded by former CEO Zach Friedlander as a simple street food stall, got into hot water after it tried to trademark the words “Aloha Poke” in 2016. It then issued a series of cease-and-desist letters to other sushi bowl shops causing outrage in Hawai to cries of cultural appropriation.

The company soon backtracked and issued an apology, but not before Daily Show host Trevoh Noah backed the campaign against it.