By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – When David Dae Kim came to America 10 years ago he was a highly trained sushi chef with dreams of opening his own restaurant. He knew he wanted to learn the business from the kitchen out but had little time for anything other than the pain staking work of preparing sushi rolls for customers in Texas, Las Vegas and the Bay Area. He also noticed that the only time customers complained about their food is when the rolls included a single ingredient they didn’t like or were unaware they contained foods with which they were allergic.
“Why not have a place where you build your own sushi roll?” he recalled saying to himself.
If the customer picks out the food and then watches you make it they will get exactly what they want every time.”
Five years ago his dream of owning restaurant came true. His first business was to open a JFE, a franchise of sushi bars located in grocery stores, in WinCo Foods in Visalia. He sold that franchise to open another location in Livermore, Calif. but quickly found that his profit margins as a franchisee were as thin as the seaweed he was using to wrap his rolls. Up the road in San Francisco, Kim noticed a new business that had brought his idea to life. The business was called Sushirito and allowed customers to build their own oversized sushi roll that was eaten like a burrito.
“I knew I needed to make my own brand to really be successful,” Kim said. “And the sushi burrito thing was really booming.”
But last year something changed his plans again – the rising popularity of poke. Pronounced “POH-keh”, not poke like on Facebook, the raw fish Hawaiian salad dish is one of the most popular foods in America. Poke bowls feature cubed raw fish, seasoned and sauced the way you like it, with greens and vegetables on a bed of rice in a bowl. It is considered a healthy meal because the fish must be fresh and for its reliance on vegetables.
“The number one thing for a restaurant is service and then the food,” Kim said. “And the most important thing about the food is that it be fresh and healthy.”
So in February of this year, Kim decided to open a new kind of restaurant combining sushi rolls and poke bowls. He called it Pokerito and found a location in the former Tachiban sushi restaurant at 3250 S. Mooney Blvd. in Visalia.
“Poke salad has become even more popular than sushi burritos,” Kim said. “I wanted a combination of something new with something I knew. And Visalia was a good place to get it started.”
Pokerito had a soft opening on Oct. 13 and held its grand opening on Oct. 20, complete with hula dancers. But even before the grand opening, Kim said his restaurant has served as many as 140 people in a day. The Asian fusion restaurant serves Poke bowls, sushi burritos and Boba tea, which you can only find a few places in Tulare County. Boba tea combines milk, flavored tea and tapioca pearls that are sucked up through an extra large straw and chewed. The sweetened drink first appeared in Taiwan in the 1980s and quickly spread through Southeast Asia and has become popular in the U.S. in the last five years.
Pokerito’s poke bowls include a choice of white or brown rice, three proteins, unlimited vegetables and specialty sauces. Not to be confused with the chain Pokirrito in other parts of the state, Kim’s restaurant is unique because it offers Cajun shrimp, tempura shrimp and tamago (a Japanese omelet) for proteins; corn, cilantro and crispy onions for toppings; and doesn’t chave an additional charge for seaweed salad, which costs extra at most poke restaurants. He has also received numerous compliments on his condiments such as his spicy mayo, sushi sauce (a thicker, sweeter version of teriyaki), and a Yum Yum, which is mayonnaise combined with a fruit flavoring to sweeten the sauce.
“They say my spicy mayo is one of the best that they have had,” Kim said. “And I have lots of recipes for other sauces but I want to hear more from the customers about what we have now.”
Pokerito is located at 3250 S. Mooney Blvd. in Visalia and is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. For more information, call 559-623-9028 or visit PokeritoFood.com.