The Untold Truth Of Poke Bros.

When it comes to new food trends, it's hard to think of one that's simultaneously as healthy, delicious, and fun to eat as poke. The traditional Hawaiian dish consists of a base, usually rice, piled up with raw or marinated fish, loads of toppings that can include veggies, nuts, seeds, sauces, and more. It's a dish that is totally customizable, and lets you indulge in flavor without having to indulge in calories, fat, and processed ingredients. Plus, pretty much every poke bowl turns out to be bright, colorful, and perfect for enjoying on a summer day — after Instagramming your lunch, of course.

So it's no wonder that poke restaurants keep popping up around the country. That includes that Ohio-based chain Poke Bros., which says it's "bringing Hawaiian cuisine's best kept secret to the Midwest." The growing chain has been putting its own fresh spin on poke for the last few years, to great acclaim from many diners. We dug up all the details on how this chain got started, and more. This is the untold truth of Poke Bros.

Poke Bros. was actually inspired by a trip to California

It makes sense to assume that Poke Bros. was inspired by a life-changing — or at least an appetite-altering — trip to Hawaii, given that poke traditionally hails from that U.S. state. But as it turns out, the idea to start the business was actually born in California. The founders, Scott McCarthy, Anthony Wellman, and Xuegong Chen, were first introduced to the Hawaiian specialty after a business trip to the Golden State (via Greenville News), a trek that was itself inspired by a social media post. According to Columbus-based food bloggers who spoke with the creators of Poke Bros., the concept really came to life after McCarthy shared a Facebook post about poke, prompting Wellman to head out to California, where the trend had already taken hold. And, given the way things progressed after that rather fateful trip, he clearly liked what he tasted.

While none of the founders had any prior experience with poke, they did have quite a bit of grounding in the restaurant world. It didn't take long before Poke Bros. made its official debut in 2016 in, surprisingly to some, the American Midwest (via Poke Bros.).

Poke Bros. started in Ohio

Poke Bros. opened its first restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, but it didn't take long for the chain to start growing, and fast. Whether it's due to the growing popularity of poke across the U.S. or the signature, proprietary poke bowl flavor that Poke Bros. has worked to develop, the restaurant has continued to find new poke lovers to please in the years since its debut. Since its first spot opened in 2016, Poke Bros. has grown to more than 50 locations across nine states in the Midwest and beyond. Locations can be found as far south as Columbia, South Carolina, reaching all the way up to just outside New York City.

And if there's not a Poke Bros. location near you yet, that could change soon. The company's spokesman told Restaurant Hospitality Magazine that Poke Bros. has no plans to stop growing anytime soon, given all that growth. They hope to expand all over the Midwest and "climate friendly" locales in the Southeast, with a focus on the types of college communities where the chain has already been successful.

There's a bowl for everyone at Poke Bros.

Whether you're looking to try authentic poke the way Hawaiians have traditionally enjoyed it, chow down on a more individualized poke-inspired creation, or simply build the sushi bowl of your dreams, there's something for pretty much everyone at Poke Bros., regardless of dietary restrictions and personal preference.

The restaurant operates quite a bit like a Chipotle, with customers moving through an ordering line and choosing a bowl's base, protein, toppings, and sauces to build their custom creation (via Greenville News). The menu consists of a range of healthy options from top to bottom. For the base, customers can choose from white and brown rice or salad greens. Protein options include fresh and raw sushi-grade tuna and salmon (available in both marinated and spicy versions), as well as chicken and shrimp for those who prefer something cooked. Next, customers can load up their bowls with dozens of veggie, topping, and sauce options. And for customers looking for some inspiration from the poke experts themselves, Poke Bros. also offers a selection of signature, house-made bowl creations when you don't especially want to do the bowl-building all on your own.

There are three ways to build a bowl at Poke Bros.

At the end of the day, poke consists of raw fish that's been dressed up a little, meaning that the freshness and quality of the ingredients must be able to stand on their own for true poke success. And, truth be told, this also means that there are a lot of ways it can be enjoyed. To that end, Poke Bros. wants its customers to know they can think outside the bowl. 

The chain says there are actually three different ways to create a delicious, customized meal at its locations. There's the standard sushi bowl style, of course, which starts with a heaping scoop of rice under all the toppings your heart desires. For a low-carb option, customers can start with lettuce and mixed greens to build a light, refreshing salad. 

And for a really creative twist that steps the farthest away from the original concept, Poke Bros. also suggests building your own poke-style loaded nachos on top of a bed of crispy wonton chips. If you think you can take the heat, try out Poke Bros. signature Not-Yo Mama's Loaded Nachos recipe, which calls for spicy tuna, jalapeños, and Sriracha aioli.

Poke Bros. takes health seriously

Poke Bros. prides itself on being a refreshing and healthy alternative for customers looking for a quality, fast-casual dining experience. The company makes it clear that it takes a variety of different diets and the desire for healthy eating very seriously, while still offering fast options for eaters on the go.

In that effort, the restaurant offers a variety of meal options, to the point where it even provides poke bowl recommendations for customers on almost any diet. That includes vegetarians, vegans, and pescatarians, as well as people who eat gluten-free, keto, paleo, and raw food diets. Not to mention, consuming quality fish has a range of health and nutritional benefits, from rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids to decreased risk of heart attack (via Healthline). And raw fish especially may contain even more nutrients that are lost during the cooking process (via Healthline). And, as if that weren't enough to get the health-conscious diner interested, it's also worth noting — as Poke Bros. points out — that a 4-ounce serving of poke contains only 150 calories and 5 grams of fat, and is packed with 24 grams of protein.

Poke Bros. has a secret sauce

Before you can call a poke bowl complete, it's gotta be dressed up with some kind of sauce that helps to highlight all those carefully selected fresh ingredients. And no matter your personal style, Poke Bros. has a sauce that will hit any flavor note you want, from creamy aiolis to tangy ponzu sauce and spicy, punchy gochujang.

You can't go wrong no matter how you choose to sauce up your bowl (or salad and nachos) at Poke Bros. But if you want a unique flavor experience that you are guaranteed not to find anywhere else, then all you have to do is drizzle on the chain's signature OG Sauce. Now, naturally enough, we can't tell you exactly what makes it so delicious, because it's made with a secret recipe. But Poke Bros. does at least admit that it starts with soy sauce, has a sweet element to it, and is full of plenty of garlic and ginger to get your tastebuds going.

The tuna is a big hit at Poke Bros.

If you aren't sure what to order first at Poke Bros., it's safe to say you can't go wrong with tuna. Specifically, the chain's marinated tuna. A Yelp reviewer confirmed that an employee called it the most popular protein on the menu. It's also worth noting that the chain says one of its most popular signature bowls is the Da Kine bowl, which features the marinated tuna, along with sweet onion, OG sauce, and ponzu sauce.

And if you find yourself swayed by popular opinion, it'll benefit more than just your taste buds. Poke Bros. further notes that tuna is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which provide a range of heart health benefits, help lower blood pressure, fight inflammation, and more (via Healthline). Tuna is also low in fat and contains plenty of essential nutrients and vitamins, according to Healthline.

Don't forget dessert at Poke Bros.

If you're having a meal at Poke Bros., you're more than likely chowing down on something that's relatively light, refreshing, and on the healthier side. So that means there's no reason not to try out the chain's signature dessert, at least on occasion. That's especially true when it's something as colorful, flavorful, and unique as mochi. To that end, Poke Bros. offers a selection of mochi ice cream, which is basically a bite-sized ice cream ball tucked inside a Japanese-style dough made out of sticky rice (via Taste of Home). 

In keeping with the relative lightness of your poke bowl, you can also go light and fruity with flavors like mango, strawberry, and passionfruit. If you're feeling more indulgent, options like chocolate or salted caramel might hit the spot, too. Or if you want to try something a bit more traditional, Poke Bros. offers mochi ice cream flavors like green tea and red bean. And that's not to mention all the seasonal flavors to look out for the next time you visit Poke Bros., according to the chain's social media posts.

You can get sushi at some Poke Bros. locations

You'll always find fresh fish and quality poke bowl ingredients at any Poke Bros. location. But at some of the chain's restaurants, you'll get a whole lot more than that. Specifically, the chain's bistro location is said to feature something more in line with a sit-down restaurant experience, rather than the fast-casual concept in action at other locations. Dine at the Poke Bros. bistro, and you can expect a more intimate dine-in atmosphere, waiter service, as well as an expanded menu.

The expanded menu options available at some Poke Bros. restaurants include a range of colorful, gourmet sushi rolls (via YouTube) and fresh sashimi. For something totally different, other locations offer a selection of hot ramen bowls to warm you up, which could be especially pleasing in the fall and winter months. And at least one Poke Bros. location in Westerville, Ohio is serving up Hawaiian-style smoked chicken and pork, too. There, the slow-cooked and shredded meat is piled onto rolls and topped with fresh pineapple and a drizzle of sauce for a perfect balance of savory, sweet, and spicy.

One Poke Bros. location serves alcohol

The traditional dining experience at the Poke Bros. bistro location wouldn't feel complete without a drink selection to accompany one's dinner. So the bistro restaurant offers a limited alcohol menu along with their expanded food options. While, judging by the promotional YouTube video, it seems as if the bistro doesn't have the requisite liquor license to serve cocktails or well drinks, customers can choose from a range of craft beer and assorted wine options.

Unfortunately, a sushi and wine date at Poke Bros. is only available to a small group of customers near a particular spot. Currently, there seems to be only one bistro-style Poke Bros. location offering both the sit-down restaurant experience and a drink menu. It opened in 2018 in Columbia, South Carolina, and was apparently well-received by the local community (via Cola Daily). However, despite that sort of warm local reception, there's currently no word on whether or not the chain has plans to open any more bistro locations.

You can learn a thing or two on the Poke Bros. blog

Poke Bros. wants to do more than just serve you delicious poke bowls. In fact, the company is hoping to teach people a thing or two about healthy eating, Hawaiian food and culture, and more. Poke Bros. maintains a blog with a range of content. There are nutritional posts like their guide to proteins. There's also some cultural lessons to be had, like their explainer on common food-focused Hawaiian slang words, or an article breaking down the complete history of poke

Unsurprisingly, there are also several articles focused on exactly why and how you should be enjoying poke, hopefully at your local Poke Bros. restaurant. And of course, the blog contains plenty of news and updates about many of the Poke Bros. locations, including new store openings, specials, events, and more. The posts go all the way to 2016, and new ones are still being published, so you'll have to check back in for the latest in the world of poke.