In the span of one week, Little Rock was plunged headfirst into the poke craze that has swept the country for the last five years. First, Poke Hula opened on 3rd Street. Then, a week later, Ohia Poké began welcoming customers. Located on 6th Street in the spot where Lulav and The Veg, LLC, once operated, Ohia Poké is hoping to get your attention with fresh, good-for-you fare and its all-encompassing approach to living a healthy lifestyle.
Ohia Poké’s owners, Sonny Nguyen and Au Tran, are newcomers to owning a restaurant. Nguyen has served in the Army and was stations at Camp Robinson, while Tran owned her own business here in Arkansas. The two were chatting about business opportunities over lunch in Anaheim, California, when the idea struck them.
“We wanted to create a place to serve a healthy alternative to all these fast food places around town,” said Nguyen. “We were actually eating at a poke restaurant (in Anaheim) when we came up with the idea. We looked around Arkansas for one and didn’t find it here. We wanted to bring that clean, fresh food to Arkansas so we could enjoy it, too.”
It proved somewhat difficult for Nguyen and Tran to find someone who could make their dream work. Plenty of investors and developers liked the idea, but shied away from a duo with no restaurant experience. Then they met Jordan Haas, who owns the Moore Building. Haas was looking for tenants and decided to give Nguyen and Tran a shot. So far, so good, as Ohia Poké has had no problem attracting guests.
“Our first week, we were absolutely slammed,” said Nguyen. “It was hard to keep inventory up to date. That was one of the first things we were quick to adjust, making sure we have all the ingredients on hand so we can properly serve our customers.”
Ohia Poké is unique in Little Rock in that all of its bowls are completely designed by the customer. There are no pre-made recipes or guidelines. Diners choose from white rice, brown rice or salad greens, then select their protein. Salmon and tuna are traditional, but Ohia Poké also offers raw scallops, shrimp, crab and tofu as options. Diners then choose mix-in ingredients like edamame, avocado or cucumber. That’s another way Ohia Poké is unique: once you have your protein and your mix-ins, everything is tossed together in the sauce of your choosing instead of being kept separate. Top it all off with sesame seeds or masago or seaweed salad, and you’re all set to go. Side note: I was very happy with my shrimp and raw scallop bowl.
Pretty much everything on the menu is good for you, as is the case of most poke joints. But for Nguyen and Tran, they want their impact on Little Rock health to go beyond what they serve up.
“This is a stepping stone, we want to use this as a platform to encourage more healthy and good behavior,” said Nguyen. “Good, in a literal sense: we want to work with people like Arkansas Foodbank in the coming months to help those in our community who need it.
“I think the one thing we want everyone to understand is, yes, we are a food industry, but our priority is customer service. We endorse the culture of teamwork and team building, as well as a sense of family. We want to extend that to our customer family. You might even call that ‘ohana.’”