When Pokeworks first stepped onto the scene in 2015 with its first store in downtown Manhattan, not many mainland Americans knew much about Hawaii’s increasingly famous fare, poke. That was about to change in a big way, thanks in part to the trailblazing brand, in addition to consumers’ desire for healthy, sustainable foods—Datassential reports that from 2016 to the end of 2020, poke grew on menus by 135 percent.
Prior to Pokeworks opening in midtown Manhattan, poke was primarily a menu item and not a concept category. Pokeworks, lines extending out the door and around the block, essentially launched the poke category.
“We really created the category in a lot of ways,” says Larry Sidoti, chief development officer at Pokeworks. “Fast forward to the present day, and what makes Pokeworks different from competitors is our food, execution, leadership, and our best-in-class support team. Pokeworks is a premium brand that sources the highest quality ingredients. There is no compromise when it comes to freshness and quality. We work very hard to source only the best products while some of our competitors cut corners in that respect. You can see and taste the difference in the product—ours is superior.”
The brand now has 61 units across North America, and Sidoti says Pokeworks has built the foundation to scale its footprint in a significant way. The brand’s C-suite now includes a CEO, CDO, and COO with a combined 80-plus years of industry experience, rounding out a leadership team with extensive operations, marketing, and supply chain expertise.
While the Pokeworks menu boasts six signature bowls, the majority of guests opt for the brand’s “Poke Your Way” option, where guests get to choose a protein, base, mix-ins, toppings, flavor, and crunch. The menu also features the unique Garlic Spam Musubi—one of those “you have to try it” items, Sidoti says.
“For us, the magic really happens with ‘Poke Your Way,’” Sidoti says. “That’s something we started, and it’s part of our ongoing innovation that’s led by one of our founding partners, Mike Wu, who has been intimately involved with everything about Pokeworks on the culinary side.”
The brand is now looking for entrepreneurial-minded people to sign multi-unit deals in various regions across the U.S. Pokeworks is currently on track to open 20 restaurants in 2022 and believes it will have upwards of 200 total units by the end of 2025. Sidoti says important qualities in a franchisee include a working knowledge of the industry, of franchising, and somebody who has a deep passion for the restaurant industry and is aligned with the values and beliefs of Pokeworks.
“We want entrepreneurs who are passionate about food, hospitality, and operating successful restaurants,” Sidoti says. “We have a three-year plan, and our goal is to dominate this category. We want to continue building a great and dominant brand that sets the bar for what right looks like. We want to be best in class in all facets of the business providing our franchise partners with a system that not only creates wealth, but spreads the spirit of Aloha in everything we do. We believe we’ve done a good job of that so far, and we’re only going to continue to improve.”
For more on franchising with Pokeworks, visit pokeworks.com/franchise.