The second poke restaurant to open up in Grand Rapids, Poke Toki is providing a new take on poke (pronounced poke-kay) bowls by combining Korean, Japanese and Hawaiian flavors and cooking styles. IJohn Chang, chef and owner of Poke Toki, had a unique inspiration resulting in the inception of his idea and growing ambitions for his restaurant.
Currently living in Rockford, Chang noticed that there are very few unique restaurants in that area. The lack of culinary excitement on Grand Rapids’ north side inspired him to open a place with quality meals that are outside of the usual options. Chang chose poke simply because it was typically off-menu; his inspiration for the tri-cultural ingredients and cooking styles came from the countries themselves.
Poke—a dish with raw marinated fish with rice, veggies and sauces—is originally from Hawaii, but Chang explained that there are similar rice bowl entrees from several other Asian nations: Korea has Bibimbap, which started with mixing leftovers and rice in a big bowl; Japan has Chirashi (freshly cut fish over rice) and Donburi, which is similar to Bibimbap.
“All of the bases are the same,” said Chang. “But sauce, cooking style and final touch make every country’s food different. I have them collaborate and fit for flavor and people of all diets: vegan, gluten-free and more.”
Though he is in the initial stages of testing and concept, Chang is hoping that Poke Toki will someday turn into Michigan’s first poke bowl franchise.
“I would like to see more Poke Toki signs in Michigan in the next seven to 10 years,” he said.
Poke bowls are a trend that has been growing in the western states since 2008. The idea has been slowly creeping eastward and was recently introduced in Grand Rapids with the opening of the Wiki Wiki Poke Shop in Eastown.
Poke Toki opened more recently but stands out for many reasons: the simplicity, the speed and the flavors to name a few. But, one thing that truly sets it apart is its ingredients.
“I spend well over fifty percent of our money on just food costs,” said Chang. “The quality of the bowl itself would easily cost around $24 in local Japanese restaurants. I wanted to offer local people better grade food options in a simple bowl at a reasonable price.”
Chang believes that people should know what they eat and where it came from. There is even a food mile counter in the restaurant, letting patrons know where the ingredients came from.
Poke Toki is all about quality and intentionality—this shows through their food, Chang’s passion for his work, openness about locally sourced ingredients and even its name. Poke, the Hawaiian word for cut, with Toki, the Japanese word for time, implies a purposeful mission paired with a speedy, well-cooked meal.
Chang is excited to bring authentic, interesting meals to Grand Rapids, and is excited for the restaurants grand opening, which will be announced soon. To learn more about Poke Toki, click here. Poke Toki is located at 5150 Northland DR NE, Suite E.
*Photos courtesy of Poke Toki