US-Based Poke Brand ‘Pokeworks’ Continues Canadian Expansion with New Locations Following Market Entry Last Year [Interview]

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U.S.-based Pokeworks, the top poke brand in North America, opened nine new locations in 2023 including its Canadian debut with plans to continue growth in 2024.

Pokeworks’ introduction to Canada was made possible by Eat Up Canada, a group focused on developing and introducing exciting restaurant concepts in the Canadian market. 

Led by experienced restaurateurs George Heos and Alex Gerzon, the company is the master franchisee for Pokeworks in Canada. Eat Up Canada are also the founders of Bombay Frankies and MightyBird. MightyBird is a partnership between Eat Up Canada and Open Concept Hospitality.

Image: Pokeworks

There is one Pokeworks location currently open in Toronto (Etobicoke).

Heos and Gerzon said there are three locations under construction that are slated to open this Spring – The Well in downtown Toronto, Burlington and Ottawa. There are three to four additional locations in the works that are expected to open before the end of the year, bringing the total to six to seven being open before 2025.

“Pokeworks’ Canadian expansion reinforces its mission to make the brand’s famous poke bowls available to guests on a global scale. The team is thrilled to introduce premium, handcrafted poke bowls to Canadian consumers,” said the partners in a joint statement.

“Pokeworks was founded in 2015 with the simple mission of spreading its love of fresh, healthy, and delicious poke – a renowned staple of Hawaiian cuisine  – with the world. Pokeworks’ innovative Poke Your Way approach is groundbreaking, offering guests limitless ways to customize their poke order to match their eating preferences including vegan, gluten-free, and other mindful diets. The Poke Burrito has developed a cult-like following, much like Pokeworks’ proprietary sauces, which range from sweet and spicy to savory. 

“Pokeworks believes in living a healthy lifestyle and eating meals made from the freshest, highest quality ingredients from sustainable food sources. In 2022, the brand was honored to be named the “Top Poke Franchise” by Startups Magazine. Pokeworks has quickly expanded to become the leading fast-casual poke brand in the world with four consecutive years on Fast Casual’s “Top 100 Movers and Shakers” list as well as Entrepreneur’s 2023 “Best of the Best Franchises” and Franchise 500 Ranking. Pokeworks has more than 70 locations across US, Taiwan, Mexico, and Canada.”

The Canadian partners said Pokeworks is dedicated to bringing a fresh and innovative approach to the vibrant culinary landscape of Canada, and particularly Toronto. 

Michael Sabetti from CBRE is representing Pokeworks for site selection.

Image: Pokeworks

Heos and Gerzon outlined a few key aspects that sets the brand apart:        

  • Authentic Ingredients: Pokeworks is committed to sourcing high-quality, fresh, and sustainable ingredients. It takes pride in offering an authentic poke experience, with a diverse selection of seafood options, premium vegetables, and signature sauces that bring out the bold flavours of Hawaii right here in Toronto;
  • Customization and Creativity: One of the unique features of Pokeworks is the ability for guests to customize their poke bowls or burritos according to their preferences. The brand calls this POKE YOUR WAY. With a wide range of protein options, toppings, and sauces, it empowers its guests to create a personalized and truly unique dining experience; 
  • Innovative Menu Offerings: As a brand Pokeworks continually strives to introduce new and exciting menu items that keep guests engaged and eager to explore different flavours. Its culinary team is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of traditional poke, offering seasonal specials and unique creations that showcase its commitment to culinary innovation;
  • Community Engagement: Beyond its offerings, Pokeworks is actively involved in the local community. 

“We believe in giving back and establishing meaningful connections with our customers. Whether through local events, collaborations, or supporting charitable initiatives, we aim to be an integral part of each community we serve,” said the Canadian partners.

“We believe that these factors contribute to making Pokeworks a distinctive and exciting addition to the Canada/Toronto food scene.”

The brand opened a total of nine new locations in 2023, including the first Pokeworks in Canada. This year 12 more new locations are planned in North America.

This expansion will increase the brand’s total to more than 85 restaurants by the year’s end, and within the next 30-36 months, the brand expects to have more than 120 locations.

Michael Chen

“We’re all excited to roll up our sleeves and dive back into the day-to-day operations of the brand we started and love so much,” said original co-founder. Mike Chen. “Pokeworks was created out of a passion for sharing a love of delicious and healthy food. Our entire team has worked hard to become the #1 poke brand in the country, and in 2024, we’re going full speed ahead.” 

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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