Building a concept around a singular, trendy item comes with some risks, for every long-term success there are numerous failures. Pokeworks is, of course, looking to avoid being in that latter group with ongoing innovations around the core offering.
“I think that’s part of the beginning of every new concept,” said Kevin Hsu, founding partner and CMO at Pokeworks, outlining one of the big topics he and the other founders pondered back in 2015. “Will it stick with people out there?”
Poke exploded into the food world a few years ago, growing inland from the coasts at a breakneck speed. As seen in Google searches, 2016 was really the peak of people learning about the rice bowl topped with raw fish and all manner of fresh ingredients. Since then, searches for the Hawaiian cuisine have fallen off dramatically. But it’s not the sudden dearth of say, “planking” or cupcakes. Searches for “poke near me” has risen steadily since 2016, showing that it might not be as trendy on Instagram, but people are still eating a lot of poke. After all, it still fits a lot of big consumer trends.
“Poke serves a really needed aspect around healthy and satisfying food items. You’re able to really walk away with an empty bowl and you really feel satisfied without that guilt factor. That fundamentally puts forward a very unique value for a lot of our guests,” said Hsu. “And the way that we deliver a creative approach, every customer is able to really be creative with poke your way.”
He said they see plenty of return traffic via their consumer data and their loyalty app, so there are plenty of regular customers. But even with a multitude of traditional offerings, as consumers get used to the cuisine, Hsu said the company is striving to avoid the feeling of “same-old-same-old.”
Luckly for Hsu and the company, poke is already a melting pot of flavors and cultures.
“When we think about traditions of Hawaiian poke, it is already a mixture of different cultures. A little Japanese, a little bit of indigenous Hawaiian. But also we see Korean ingredients or Thai make sense,” said Hsu. “Those elements kind of stick to the melting pot of cultures that go into poke.”
That leaves a smorgasbord of options for the customer and Hsu said more are on the way, including a bowl with more Chinese elements that has quickly become his favorite.
So as the shine comes off the phenomenal poke fad and the cuisine gets a little routine, he said they won’t avoid the traditional, but will keep a close focus on the lifestyle of the people that plastered poke on their Instagram feeds in the first place.
“That’s what were day-to-day trying to build more awareness around, the different benefits of being able to eat our mixes to achieve their lifestyle goals. More toned, more protein rich or just more balanced,” said Hsu. “We’re hoping to get that more to the forefront, as you build your bowl or burrito or salad, that you have a really healthy mix.”
Pokeworks currently has 47 locations, growing especially quick in Florida and Texas. Hsu said the company will continue opening three of four locations a month predominantly via franchising and aims for 70-80 locations by the end of 2019 and cross the 100-unit mark in 2020.